How & When New LCSH Are Created

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee Question/Answer on cataloging issues – Dec. 2010
How and when are new subject headings created?
How many books need to be published on a subject before a new subject heading is proposed?

The short answer to this question is that it varies. The underlying rule is that only one book needs to be published on a subject before we can establish a subject heading. If a book requires a new subject heading, that heading can be submitted to the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). However, in practice this can vary.
If the subject is a term that describes a new phenomena like cell phones or Wikis or AIDS, the subject cataloger may wait to see what terms surface as the most common terms for the subject. A list of cross-references will also be compiled by waiting. However, in most cases the subjects are established relatively quickly as the new area becomes a part of modern culture, and many books start to surface on the same topic.
There are other subjects that are established immediately, even though only one book is published on the topic. Some examples of these would be headings for languages, archaeological sites, geographic locations, deities, etc. These subjects are similar in that the concept or area has been around for a long time, although an entire book may not have been published on the topic.
These topics also fit readily into the existing taxonomic structure of the Library of Congress Subject Headings. LCSH is not an exhaustive list of topics. For example, if you search for “Languages—Colombia” you will find a list of languages spoken there, but it is not a list of all languages spoken in Colombia. Only if material is published on a language and an LC or PCC (Program for Cooperative Cataloging) librarian establishes the heading, will a subject heading for that language be created. The reason for this is that LC does not consider LCSH an exhaustive taxonomy. Instead it is a work in progress, to which new subject headings are added every day. Approximately 4000 new subject headings were added this year.
Therefore, in archaeology collections, subject catalogers frequently create subject headings for archaeological sites, since in many cases, they receive the first book to be published on that site. All archaeological sites are individually established if they are named sites. Examples include: Etton Site (England), Pompeii (Extinct city) and Lascaux Cave (France).


At what point are cross-references added to subject headings?
Subject catalogers are required to search each new subject heading proposal in at least three reference sources. Throughout the course of this search, they may discover some variant terms. Sometimes the term on the book which initiated the proposal even becomes the variant term. The term used most consistently is usually chosen as the new subject heading, and all other references are added as cross-references. Cross-references are also sometimes added at a later time when additional material is published on a topic and a variant term is used. In these cases, the new cross-reference is added to the existing subject. Although it is rare for the main subject heading to change because of usage, it has happened. For example “Pluralism (Social sciences)” was changed to “Cultural pluralism.” In these rare cases the old subject heading (i.e. Pluralism (Social sciences)) became a cross-reference instead.


At what point are scope notes added to subject headings?

Scope notes are usually added when the subject heading is created. Many subject headings to do not have scope notes because the usage of the term is obvious. However, whenever it is felt that a scope note would help the subject cataloger apply the term properly, a scope note is added.

For example, the subject heading “Cultural pluralism” has the following scope note: “Here are entered works on the condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups coexist within one society. Works on policies or programs that foster the preservation of different cultural identities, including customs, languages, and beliefs, within a unified society such as a state or nation, are entered under Multiculturalism. Works on the blending of elements from two or more cultures, often producing a distinctive successor culture, are entered under Cultural fusion.”
Without the aid of the note, it would be difficult for the cataloger to ascertain when to apply “cultural pluralism,” “multiculturalism,” or “cultural fusion.” These terms can be used almost interchangeably in some of the literature, especially when one is cataloging materials in foreign languages. However, in LCSH the terms are reserved for specific concepts. A scope note is necessary to strictly define those terms. Another example is “Blacks.” The scope note is: “Here are entered works on blacks as an element in the population. Theoretical works discussing the black race from an anthropological point of view are entered under Black race. Works on black people in countries whose racial composition is predominantly black are assigned headings appropriate for the country as a whole without the use of the heading Blacks. The heading Blacks is assigned to works on such countries only if the work discusses blacks apart from other groups in the country.” Once again, without the scope note a librarian would not know how to apply the subject heading.

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