Assigning Subject Headings: Subject Analysis

Once a cataloger understands the types of headings and subdivisions that are available in the LCSH, the next challenge is to decide which headings should be used for the library materials being cataloged. 

The first step in this process involves what is called SUBJECT ANALYSIS, or analyzing the library material in question to determine the exact content. Many times this is evident by looking at the title of the item, such as Desserts From Your Bread Machine. A title such as this would require subject headings indicating cookery, desserts, and bread machine use. 

Sometimes, though, the title indicates little of the content. The title Full Circle by itself does not explain what this book might be about. Further analysis is needed. This can be done in several ways. 

Often, looking through the table of contents can be a good indicator of the subject of an item. Paging through an index and any illustrations or photographs will also help. 

For non-book materials, accompanying booklets or instruction guides should give information that will help determine the topic. 

When these simple measures do not work, the cataloger may have to resort to reading a few paragraphs of several chapters in a book, or looking at or listening to computer programs, videos, cassettes and compact discs. It is important to complete the cataloging process as quickly as possible, with little wasted time, but it is also important to be sure of the content of anything that subject headings are being assigned to. A miss-assigned subject heading can lead to great frustration on the part of library users and staff, when the material found doesn’t deal with the specified topic at all.

In the example above, Full Circle, a brief look through the table of contents gives the information that the book covers various countries around the Pacific Rim area. Looking through the index, the chapters, and looking at the photos and illustrations further clarifies that the book is in a chronological format and deals with traveling to various places around the Pacific, covering eastern Asia, Australia, and western South and North Americas. This information makes it possible to assign subject headings related to the countries involved and with an emphasis on travel and personal anecdotes, rather than scientific study.

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