ARLIS/NY Cataloging Discussion Group Meeting
Dec. 3, 1997


The meeting was held in the reading room of the MoMA Library. The discussion focused on subject headings. Danny Fermon of MoMA introduced the topic and commented on the integral relationship between descriptive cataloging and subject analysis.

Thomas Mann article in Cataloging and Classification Quarterly 23, no. 3/4 (1997)

DF read the abstract for the article in which Mann challenges the methodology of previous research by Dorothy Gregor and Carol Mandel. They had maintained there was only a 10-20% agreement between catalogers in assigning subject headings, but since the research cited was, for the most part, based on use of natural language by non professionals, Mann felt the conclusions were not supported by the evidence. In fact, the findings could be read as confirming the usefulness of standardized subject headings and cooperative efforts. Unfortunately, Gregor's and Mandel's conclusions have become popular in the library community.

Local subject headings

The discussion began with a series of questions. How do various institutions handle local subject headings? Is a list maintained? If yes, is it in electronic or print format? What issues does this create for authority control and maintenance?

Two types of local subject headings were identified: non-standard uses of LCSH and local terms created when LC terms weren't specific enough (i.e. Entartete Kunst). The second category of filling-a-void type terms is long-term temporary. Ideally, newly created LC terms would eventually make these local subject headings standard or offer suitable replacements.

Noted drawbacks of using local headings include the commitment to maintaining a separate authority file and training staff in the application of nonstandard headings. Nonstandard headings may also be lost in recon/conversion processes or may not be easy to retrieve due to limited indexing in the OPAC. Insufficient control of nonstandard headings (ex: assigning synonymic terms) may prevent collocation.

Advantages of using local headings include the ability to meet the requirements of individual staff members or departments and the opportunity to tailor cataloging to known research strategies of users. As Vicky Bohm of the Watson Library and Carol Pardo, formerly of the Watson, now of Columbia, pointed out, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Arms and Armour curatorial staff demand non-standard subject headings in the catalog. But since LC terms are often too general for specialized topics or don't conform to local usages, Watson catalogers tend to use standard 650's (to comply with RLIN standards) and add as many 690's as necessary.

Several members observed that applying and tracking nonstandard subject headings becomes easier in an automated environment. Also, LC has become more accessible due to technological changes and increased use.

SACO - procedures, problems and successes

Experiences with submitting terms and getting approval were mostly positive. CUL had difficulties in creating a subject heading for a building which had various occupants (the heading took 4 months to approve). This raised the larger question of how to construct headings for buildings which are distinct from the headings for the corporate bodies that build or occupy them. In general, proposed subject headings which broached policy issues were less likely to be approved or took much longer.

Use of "in art" topics: Requirements for libraries such as Columbia which have to maintain core level cataloging are more specific and require that all terms used must have a record in the authority file. Some institutions use "in art" but do not submit these terms to SACO.

SACO template is available on the LC website in PCC portion (LCSH Proposal Form at

Cataloging Services Bulletin no. 78 (fall 1997) - Biography subdivision

LC is proposing to eliminate the Biography subdivision from both personal name and literary author lists. It was suggested that because LC responds to public pressure, members of the CDG each send an e-mail message to counter the proposal by supporting extending the biography subdivision to non-literary persons before Dec. 31st.

Thompson A. Yee
Acting Chief
Cataloging Policy and Support Office
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. 20540-4305

FAX: (202) 707-6629

Cataloging Advisory Committee Report - issue of period subdivisions

Discussion of proposal to extend free floating chronological subdivisions, ex.: "History to 1500." The existing subdivisions are particularly inadequate for libraries with pre-1500 material and special collections. "Antiquities" was noted as an impossibly broad time span. Pierpoint Morgan employees identified manuscripts and paleography as difficult categories of material which require local files. Members also questioned why there are no divisions smaller than a century? Why are there no divisions by decade? Cross century works require multiple subject headings, why not allow a span of decades? Division by decade would also be useful for large collections of twentieth-century material.

Further issues relating to dates

Is the 045 field for time periods used? General response was no, although the Pierpoint Morgan has used it for seals. O45 is not indexed in RLIN. Also it is of limited use for material not dated according to the Roman calendar, i.e., Egyptian chronology is based on the dates of the Pharaohs.

Members generally agreed that in the absence of adequate LC Subject Headings it is preferable to construct unauthorized headings which conform to a set pattern. Subject headings can be created to meet local needs but it is best if there is institutional cooperation in what forms these headings take.

Doubling of subject headings may be eradicated.

Currently full-level cataloging requires catalogers to employ pairs of subject headings such as, Art, Italian and Art, Modern--20th century--Italy. If one heading of the pair were eliminated which should it be? Should geography or chronology be emphasized? Complications arise in the use of terminology across disciplines, i.e., modern as applied to art vs. modern as employed in history.

Value of History subdivision

Various opinions on the value of the History subdivision were expressed. One member thought that the History connotation reflects a public library influence and is not necessary in Art History collections. Others commented that it complicates OPAC searching. Another member observed that it serves to collocate textual and numerical $y's.

Next meeting

Ross Day proposed that the next CDG meeting be held at the Goldwater Library, Monday, Feb. 9th at 3:00 p.m. Tenative topics are reports from ALA and SACO proposals.

The meeting concluded with a demonstration of the recent upgrade of the Voyager system (97-1).

Minutes compiled by Abby Bridge