ACAT Teaching students to assign LCSH

Posting to Autocat

On 11/3/2014 5:00 PM, Deborah Johnson wrote:

Thank you for your replies.

The consensus is that no, there is no easy way to teach someone to assign subject headings, no search machine where I can type in a keyword and get suggestions for LC headings.

Also, from my own experience, I have found that the subjects non-catalogers assign to items tend to be either too general or too specific. For instance, when I worked at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, we would see keywords assigned by authors to their own articles. Often, the keywords would be “food” or “agriculture” which were far too general, or maybe they would add a very specific term that was mentioned only in passing in the article. My own conclusion was, they didn’t find it very interesting and just wanted to get the keywords over with. They also didn’t understand what the purpose of the keywords are.

But now it’s easier to compare how the public assigns some of these terms. Many of these books are in Wikipedia, with all kinds of information. As one example, is John Keynes’ important “The Economic Consequences of the Peace”. In dbpedia (which is a linked data version of the Wikipedia articles and available at we see an abstract:

“The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) is a book written and published by John Maynard Keynes. Keynes attended the Versailles Conference as a delegate of the British Treasury and argued for a much more generous peace. It was a best-seller throughout the world and was critical in establishing a general opinion that the Versailles Treaty was a “Carthaginian peace”. It helped to consolidate American public opinion against the treaty and involvement in the League of Nations. The perception by much of the British public that Germany had been treated unfairly in turn was a crucial factor in public support for appeasement. The success of the book established Keynes’ reputation as a leading economist especially on the left. When Keynes was a key player in establishing the Bretton Woods system in 1944, he remembered the lessons from Versailles as well as the Great Depression. The Marshall Plan after Second World War is a similar system to that proposed by Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace.”

Not too bad of an abstract. But when we look at the subjects (under “dcterms.subject”):


In Worldcat, we see the subjects:
Treaty of Versailles (1919)
Economic history — 1918-1945.
World War, 1914-1918 — Economic aspects.

I think this is a good example of what I have seen when people assign subjects vs. when trained catalogers do it. No mention of WWI or the Treaty. Everything is either too general (economic history) or even not pertinent.

Apparently, just figuring out what is the subject of an item is much harder than it would seem–even for the authors.