Friday, October 19, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Learning subject headings

Posting to Autocat

On 19/10/2012 16:07, Jerri Swinehart wrote:
I do all of the original cataloging of the university's theses, dissertations, etc. The theses and dissertations are majority hard sciences. They get the traditional bibliographic records with the actual abstract put into a 520 3 field. My question though is about the subject headings. My mentor taught me how she decided which subject headings to add. My problem is this ... There are thousands of subject headings plus subdivision combinations that have been created. There is no way to memorize them. I feel sometimes like there's some subject heading out there that I'm missing that would be perfect for the material being cataloged. Only I do not "know" the subject heading. So how do I grow my knowledge of which subject headings exist?

I have always considered that the main task of all catalogers is to memorize all of the LC Subject Headings and all of their possible subdivisions.


In reality, I have always tried to keep in mind that the purpose of subjects, as well as the rest of the headings, is to bring all of the resources together on each topic. Therefore, the task is to find other, similar items and use what you find there. Several years ago, I wrote on my webpage when I was at Princeton, a page called "Metadata Creation--Down and Dirty". After I left, my site was taken down, but parts of it is still in the Internet Archive. I wrote it for aspiring "Information Architects". Here is the page:

There were some images in what I wrote, but those didn't seem to survive the years and I don't think they were so important anyway. They were just simple line drawings showing where in the classification system something was, and I think the text is enough. In essence, I discuss "consistency" and try to explain why it is so vital in a catalog. I still agree with everything I wrote there. So, the task of the cataloger is, after figuring out the subject (which has its own problems), the task is to fit the item into what already exists so that the public will find everything on a topic all together. Of course, that is the ideal which is rarely met.

As a concrete example, I remember when I first came to Rome and I was teaching someone how to catalog. The librarian had received a short pamphlet on the restoration of the ceiling fresco at Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola written by the restorer. (This is a famous tromp l’oeil, which really works when you stand there! Here it is in incredibly high definition

Anyway, I had never cataloged anything like that before and of course the librarian I was training hadn't either. Nobody had ever written a book about that fresco, but.... I had been keeping up with the news. (This is essential for catalogers!) I remembered the controversy over the restoration of Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, found some books about it in the LC catalog that had some nice subject patterns and ways of looking at the subject, adapted them, and made a nice record rather quickly. That has always been my own method: to assume that someone else has written on your topic. It is your task to find those other writings and see how the cataloger assigned the subjects. In the end you will probably have to bring subjects from a few records together and throw out some to create the subjects that fit your resource. This way you can aim for consistency.

You also need the Subject Cataloging Manuals, and a few tools for subdivisions.

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