Presentation for
Authority Control Interest Group,
ALA Midwinter 2002:
How I learned to love ART, AMERICAN -- 20TH CENTURY:
maintaining art subject headings
by Sherman Clarke

Subject headings are always evolving. New concepts are added to LCSH. New ways are used to describe a topic. The rate of evolution increases as online catalogs expedite maintenance of headings. I have been asked today to address the recent changes to LC subject headings for the visual arts, which LC implemented on February 1st of 2001. The text for this talk is on the web at under art cataloging papers where you will also find some examples of new and old style headings and a link to the two Subject cataloging manual memos I will talk about soon.

The changes to art subject headings grew out of the 1991 conference on the future of subdivisions. At that conference, it was determined that subdivisions should normally fall in TOPICAL -- GEOGRAPHICAL -- CHRONOLOGICAL -- FORM order. There has also been a lot of work done to eliminate inconsequential differences between disciplines. Lists of free-floating subdivisions have been consolidated and/or brought into closer alignment, for example, authors and other persons, and Native Americans and other ethnic groups.

The principal memos on art subject headings are H 1148 and 1250 of the Subject cataloging manual: subject headings. H 1250 is the revised general memo on fine arts and H 1148 is the new pattern memo for subdivisions. ART, ITALIAN has been selected as the pattern for fine art headings. Centuries from the 10th to 21st are free-floating though East Asian countries use different time periods than the western pattern, as they do in many disciplines.

Before I talk about maintaining bibliographic records, let me describe the headings before and after the recent revisions. In art, there were and continue to be three patterns that need to be followed. Each of these areas was treated in a particular way and the revisions, alas, do not bring these three areas into agreement; there are still three ways to treat art.

One of the patterns is that for the *fine* arts. In LCSH, this means painting, sculpture, drawing, and prints. For those of you familiar with the N schedule, it’s those things which would normally class in N, NB, NC, ND, NE, and NX. Until early 2001, works on art of a particular period from a particular place would get a pair of headings -- one would emphasize the period and the other the place. For example, a work on 20th-century American painting would get the subject headings PAINTING, AMERICAN and PAINTING, MODERN -- 20TH CENTURY -- UNITED STATES. You will note that the place is included in both headings but the emphasis in the latter is on the chronology. The subdivision HISTORY is not generally used with any heading which is divided by place or movement; this continues to be the case with the rationale that works on the fine arts are inherently historical. While that is true, it means that you will probably find errant HISTORY subdivisions when you’re doing copy cataloging or maintenance.

To bring this group of headings into closer harmony with other areas, the paired headings have become one, following the order of subdivisions from the 1991 conference. The new way to express 20th-century American painting is PAINTING, AMERICAN -- 20TH CENTURY. Possible chronological subdivisions are taken from H 1148. Those of you who catalog in other areas will note the absence of -- HISTORY here, and this represents a continuing difference from other disciplines. The older ones among you will remember that there was even a separate Subject Analysis Committee subcommittee that looked at the subdivision HISTORY.

If there are additional geographic subdivisions or form subdivisions, they are added in normal order. For example, PAINTING, AMERICAN -- IOWA -- DES MOINES -- 20TH CENTURY -- EXHIBITIONS.

The second group of art headings are those for architecture, which were also paired until 2001. While architecture headings are excluded from memos H 1148 and 1250, the subdividing and the conflation of the pairing is similar. The chief difference is that, here, the national style adjectives are not used unless the architecture is not in the home country, such as British architecture in India. An example of an old-style heading would be ARCHITECTURE -- ENGLAND -- LONDON and that would be paired with ARCHITECTURE, MODERN -- 20TH CENTURY -- ENGLAND -- LONDON. Converting that to new-style results in ARCHITECTURE -- ENGLAND -- LONDON -- 20TH CENTURY. You will probably note the economy of the new style. A keyword search on “modern” in an opac of any size would not be advisable and the rest of the words are common to both old- and new-style versions of the heading. That is not to say that our only hope is doing keyword searching on subject words.

The third group of art headings is that for the useful or decorative arts. For the N schedule fanatics, it’s the stuff that mostly classes in NK. The headings in this area were perhaps more like patterns in other areas. They were not generally paired and they have not changed as a result of the recent revisions. An example of this group would be FURNITURE -- PENNSYLVANIA -- PHILADELPHIA -- HISTORY -- 19TH CENTURY. You will perhaps note that, here, we art catalogers DO use the HISTORY subdivision. You will perhaps also note that the national adjective AMERICAN is not used; this is generally true for decorative arts.

There are also some tangential areas and special cases where HISTORY is used. For example, HISTORY is used with ART CRITICISM with appropriate century subdivision as warranted. The heading AVANT-GARDE (AESTHETICS) was developed some years ago with HISTORY and century subdivision, but it’s an anomaly.

So, how are we going to maintain our catalogs? There’s the easy way and the hard way, with the user of course bearing most of the cost. The user here includes those who will use our records in copy cataloging. I am more familiar with RLIN and if I do maintenance the easy way, our updated records in RLIN will need to be enhanced by all of you when you do copy cataloging. If we do our maintenance the harder way, that is, record by record, our local users as well as those using our copy will have a result consistent with the revised art headings. I don’t think it is common practice for an OCLC library to do parallel maintenance on the local and OCLC versions of the record though some of this may happen if the record is being officially enhanced.

In preparation for this presentation, I kept a log of how the records changed as I maintained groups of headings. Even as I changed these records one by one, some were easy to fix and some took an analysis of the title. As I imagine most of you did, I guessed at the right answer from the record and did not fetch any books from the stacks to do a new subject analysis. In case of doubt, I usually left a heading that might be redundant or inappropriate.

I will describe a couple easy examples first and then more complicated ones.

The first example: ART, MODERN -- 17TH-18TH CENTURIES -- NETHERLANDS. I analyzed the cluster of 17 records in our opac. Here, I did a modified easy approach. Of the group, a few should become ART, DUTCH -- 18TH CENTURY but most should become ART, DUTCH -- 17TH CENTURY. You may note another special circumstance in art headings that is disappearing with the revisions; the 17th and 18th centuries are no longer paired. I fixed individually the few that should become 18th century or both centuries. Then, I globally changed all of the rest to ART, DUTCH -- 17TH CENTURY. This is where the user loses. Most of these records will now have the orphaned ART, DUTCH of the old-style paired headings as well as the new ART, DUTCH -- 17TH CENTURY, where they should have only this new heading with the century.

I also looked at this heading divided to places within the Netherlands. In almost all cases, the appropriate century subdivision was added to another heading on the record, though one was doubled for both centuries.

The next example: ART, MODERN -- FRANCE -- EXHIBITIONS. This heading has been replaced by ART, FRENCH -- EXHIBITIONS since MODERN is no longer used with geographic subdivision. All of these headings should actually be removed from the records. My system (Geac ADVANCE) does not allow me to do that globally. In an interesting twist, there were three records with ART, MODERN -- FRANCE and none had ART, FRENCH, so I was able to globally change those to the new form.

With ART, MODERN -- EUROPE, almost all of the headings again should be eliminated because the records already had the new-style ART, EUROPEAN.

With ART, MODERN -- 17TH-18TH CENTURIES, I found 22 records and did one of five things with this heading, based on an analysis of the title. I changed four into both ART, MODERN -- 17TH CENTURY and ART, MODERN -- 18TH CENTURY. Fourteen were changed into one or the other of those headings. Three were given both headings because I could not determine from the title which century was appropriate. One was deleted and the century was added to a different subject heading. Three were otherwise altered, that is, analysis of the title led to a different suite of subject headings.

Clearly, this represents a good deal of time and I don’t think that you can farm the bulk of the work too far down the worker pole. At NYU, we do have some copy catalogers that could probably figure this out but we do not have a maintenance unit with staff that is trained to think along these lines. We are more likely to give particular maintenance tasks to individual copy catalogers depending on the complexity of the problem and their other work assignments, as well as language or sometimes subject expertise.

So, how are we going to handle vast amounts of maintenance on art subject headings in our catalog? I imagine we’ll take the easy route for some large clusters of headings. For example, what has happened with the pair we started out with -- PAINTING, AMERICAN and PAINTING, MODERN --20TH CENTURY -- UNITED STATES which should become the single heading PAINTING, AMERICAN -- 20TH CENTURY? I looked at the 117 records in our database that now have the new version of this heading. Of that group, the good news is that 44 of those records look ok with their suite of subject headings. The other side is that 67 of them have a redundant heading, and it would take some careful instruction to get them fixed right. That is, when I looked at them, many had the old plural form of PAINTINGS, AMERICAN which presumably will get fixed if we ever get our WLN-processed records loaded. Also, the subdivision EXHIBITIONS was often on the redundant orphan heading so that subdivision should really be moved to the new-style heading before deleting the orphan. It’s not too complicated but it can’t be done carelessly. There were of course a handful of records where I might have done something else entirely, such as merging other headings, separating concepts, or adding subdivisions from other headings on the record.

Another problem with copy cataloging by other institutions is the records are, in some cases, really a patchwork of new- and old-style headings. For example, though the 20th century heading for AMERICAN PAINTING is fixed in our opac, the 19th century heading was not yet fixed.

Being worried about the redundancy on our records, I did go look at another library’s opac. They had taken the easy route with ARCHITECTURE, MODERN -- 20TH CENTURY -- UNITED STATES and had fixed them to ARCHITECTURE -- UNITED STATES -- 20TH CENTURY with most of the individual records I looked at having a redundant heading not divided by century. And the reference to the fixed U.S. headings fell amongst lots of records that had not been revised to the new form. For example, ARCHITECTURE, MODERN -- 20TH CENTURY -- VERMONT might follow after the reference to the new-style form for the United States. I searched the same heading in two other catalogs. The second opac had hits under both the old- and new-style headings without a reference. The third had revised the records to the new-style and had eliminated redundancy on the couple dozen I looked at. I am happy to report that the third library was the Library of Congress which provides significant hope for copy cataloging on these headings. I do not know if LC is yet making significant use of the global change features in Endeavor or whether they manually changed all of the headings. Having such success in LC’s catalog, I looked at some of the painting headings and they also have been nicely maintained, with redundancy eliminated. Headings outside the recent changes were still sometimes in older styles but this year’s revisions were well handled.

Like all revisions in major areas of subject headings, there are easy ways and harder ways to proceed with maintaining existing headings. Some headings can be changed to the new form, leaving behind redundancies. In these art revisions, the redundancies mostly are more general headings and I would say that their redundancy is not very harmful to the user. There are other records that can only be maintained by re-analyzing the title. As with most maintenance, we’ll do as much as we can with whatever resources we can muster. My colleague at the Art Institute of Chicago, Amy Trendler, has written an article in Art documentation which details the history and changes in art subject headings at greater length.


SCM:SH H 1148 and H 1250 (February 2001)

Trendler, Amy E., “The rules have changed: Library of Congress subject headings for art and architecture,” Art documentation, v. 20, no. 1 (2001), p. 24-29.

The future of subdivisions in the Library of Congress subject headings system : report from the Subject Subdivisions Conference sponsored by the Library of Congress, May 9-12, 1991 edited by Martha O’Hara Conway. -- Washington : Library of Congress Cataloging Distribution Service, 1992.