In my never-ending quest to perfect our collection and catalog, I’ve started our new project: working on our subject headings. What does that mean?
It’s a project looking to make the ways the subjects clear and helpful. Some of it is due to outdated language (“Indians of North America” anyone?), some of it is due to errors in typing (family with the incredibly rare two ll spelling). And the rest? Well, here’s how we’re attacking it.
Pass One: look for spelling errors, change state abbreviations (eg, CA for Calif), get rid of periods at the end of the heading (which make it difficult to find the same heading without the period), make titles comprehensible (eg, change “Hook, Captain” to “Captain Hook” or “Churchill, Winston, Sir” to “Churchill, Sir Winston”).
Pass Two: over half the subject headings lead to only one book – are they needed? In my head, yes if it’s a person or event that students might look up, no if it’s a generic one (like “Ecological surveys”, which leads to a book with that phrase in the title).
Pass Three: looking at dates – 20th century vs Twentieth century, or “1949-”
Pass Four: looking at geographic headings, especially in the fiction books. Show me the student looking for fiction set in a location, please. They may look for something on the Tulsa Race Riot, but not a book set in Tulsa OK. We also don’t need non-fiction books that have a subject heading that says “Los Angeles (CA) — California”.
I’m hoping we can get through this by the end of the year, at which point we’ll have gone through the collection many times and the subject headings. The goal is that going forward, we can catch these things before they, like weeds, spread through the catalog. And that a once-a-year check will catch those errors.
In case you’re wondering, yes we have subject heading norms, just as we have cataloging norms. I’ll share those later.