ACAT Istanbul versus Constantinople

Posting to Autocat

On 10/27/2015 9:44 PM, Laurence S. Creider wrote:
You may not think that Istanbul (Turkey) |x History |y Siege, 1203-1204 or Istanbul (Turkey) |x History |y To 1453 sound awful, but I assure you that it does to some of us. Not merely ridiculous, as in the former Soviet Union–Court and courtiers, but just flat out wrong.

The concept of what is “wrong” in the catalog is different from what is “wrong” in the normal sense of the word. The primary purpose of a catalog is to keep similar things together. Sounds simple, but often it is not. If you don’t do that, users will have to be aware that if they want to do a complete search on a single topic, they must look in multiple places.

As a cataloger who dealt intimately with the heading “Soviet Union” that then split into three headings for the same geographic area, I can assure everyone that it is terribly complex. In fact, it was some of the most complicated subject analysis I have done in my life.

If all you are dealing with is historical topics, that may be one thing, but that is only one relatively small part of subjects. If you are dealing with anything else, the subject analysis becomes crazy. The example I had was with the heading “Birds” of the area of the Russian Empire/Soviet Union/Former Soviet republics, i.e. the same geographic area. These items are on the same topic and should be kept together–for the sake of the users. Otherwise, they will have to run around to different places in the catalog for materials on the same topic.

The rule for Russia/Soviet Union/Former Soviet republics is: you use the date of publication of the item for your subject analysis. Therefore, if you have a book about birds throughout the whole of “that area” and it was published up until the Revolution (1917), you use
“Birds–Russia” (that is, the Russian Empire, not Russia (Federation) which is something entirely different)
If you have a book about birds published from 1917 until the end of the Soviet Union, you use:
“Birds–Soviet Union”
If you have a book published today, you use:
“Birds–Former Soviet republics”

As a result, there are “Soviet birds” and “Russian Empire birds”. Why? Because in materials published before the Revolution, you cannot use “Soviet Union” or “Former Soviet republics”. And during the time of the Soviet Union, you cannot use “Former Soviet republics.” See the guidelines in the Slavic Cataloging Manual at, also the Prologue at

The rule for all other headings except “Russia/Soviet Union/Former Soviet republics” is that you use the latest name of a geographic area, but an exception was made in this case.

Again, subjects are supposed to transcend when an item was published so that people do not have to look all over the place for materials on the same topic. So, an item on the Italian Renaissance published during that time or today should get the same heading, and they do, even though there was no entity known as “Italy” during the time of the Renaissance. “Renaissance–Italy” looks just as ridiculous as “Soviet Union–Court and courtiers” for those who know.

As I wrote in the guidelines, what if you have “Prehistoric peoples”? All of the subject headings look bad, “Prehistoric peoples–Russia” or “Soviet Union” or “Former Soviet republics”. What do you do with a general history of agriculture from the beginnings to the present, or “Philosophy, Medieval” published during different times, or biographies of people whose lives overlapped the political changes? How do you help people find the materials they need? How do you find consistency? At one time, these subjects were simple, but after the change, they became very difficult for both the user and for the cataloger.

In short, how users find anything on those topics is beyond me. They have to know that, if they find something with the subject “Birds–Russia” they also have to search “Birds–Soviet Union” and “Birds–Former Soviet republics” and vice versa. How in the world can they possibly know to do that? Why should they have to?

My advice about Istanbul/Constantinople: don’t force people to look in multiple places for items on the same topic. It doesn’t help them and it makes your work much more complicated.