Subject Headings List

Subject Headings List

Subject Heading Scheme

Any time you are looking for information on a particular subject you will use tools that are arranged by subject, have indexes which include subjects, or use specific subject heading schemes such as Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

You can use a subject approach with your library’s catalogue. The books on the shelves of the library are in practice classified by subject, as are indexes to magazine articles. Many of the reference books you use and some web directory subject guide sites are organized by specific categories. These categories are the subject headings.
Working with subject headings

The best way to use these tools well is to determine what subject heading will be used for the topic of your question. However our language is so complex that there are often many ways to describe the same topic. Each tool or web directory site will use the terms that make the most sense for the area covered. Each source may use different terms for the same concepts. For example, some sources will use the heading ‘capital punishment’ while others will use ‘death penalty’. Web search engines generally do not use subject access and thus searches will find any site with the keywords you enter even though the site may have nothing to do with the topic.

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) allows for some standardisation in the library online catalogue and standard databases. The terms in this tool are used when adding item records to the catalogue. For that reason the LCSH is a logical place to begin when you are not sure what heading to use or are having trouble finding a subject in your catalogue.

If you don’t have these tools, one strategy that often works is to check the subject headings within the catalogue record for another book on the subject. They may appear only as part of the full catalogue record. Online catalogues each work a little differently and you will have to check to see how yours handles subject headings. If you don’t find it under one term, try a synonym.

There is no single standard list of subjects used for all reference tools and good cross referencing is rare. Many professions, industries and disciplines have their own subject heading lists, e g medical subject headings (MESH). Try to think of as many different terms for the same concept as you can, and try them all. Broaden the subject if you have trouble. For example, you might find mention of a particular aboriginal artist under her name, ‘aboriginal artists’, or ‘aboriginal art’ web searches. For web searching a narrow approach is often necessary in working with such overwhelming numbers of sites.

A subject heading list is a controlled vocabulary (established list of preferred terms, usually with cross references), generally of topical subjects, which can be added to a descriptive record to enable search and retrieval by subject. “a controlled vocabulary of terms in natural language that are designed for both pre-coordination and post-coordination” (Chu, 2005). Among the popular general subject heading lists, there are the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), the Repertoire d’autorité-matière encyclopédique et alphabétique unifié (RAMEAU), the Canadian Subject Headings (CSH) and the Répertoire de Vedettes-Matière de l’Université Laval (RVM).

There are two main kinds of controlled vocabulary tools used in many libraries: subject heading schemes and thesauri.

See “Glossary of Terms Relating to Thesauri and Other Forms of Structured Vocabulary for Information Retrieval

Subject Headings

Subject Headings are applied to each item within a collection, and help users locate to items that cover a specific subject as well as helping them to find other items that cover similar subject matter. They are searched, for example, using a ‘subject heading’, ‘subject keyword’ and ‘general keyword’ search. In the Encyclopedia of Law, the subject headings are being supplemented by additional data such as ‘tables of contents’ and ‘abstracts’, which contain ‘subject’ information.

The main criterion for the choice of descriptors is, accordingly, their legal (source of law, for example) relevance. As there is no universally applicable principle of choice, the selection of descriptors and their location in the subject areas in many cases can only be based on a compromise between the perspectives and needs of individual disciplines and practical requirements of users. As a consequence subject areas closer to the focus of the Thesaurus are dealt with more extensively than others.

The Lawi Subject Headings are based in established schemes, like the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and the Medical Subject Headings (MESH).

The Subject Heading Scheme….


Subject Heading List

A Subject Heading List is a Controlled Vocabulary of Subject Headings that is used in Document Subject Heading Indexing Task. A Subject Indexing Task is a Document Classification Task that requires the mapping of a Document to one or more Subject Index Terms (from a Subject Heading List). It can support a Corpus Subject Index Creation Task. Example(s): A Document may be cataloged as being about “Security” even though the term “Security” is not mentioned in the document.

Providing a heading for every idea, object, process or relationships that catalogers might encounter is an impossible task. However, this thesaurus-like database was developed to help guide catalogers in creating necessary headings.


However, the Lawi subject categories are not suited for library classification purposes because of polyhierarchical relationships and multiple positioning of terms. Therefore a separate classification should be develop, which may use the existing subject categories. This classification should be built upon mono-hierarchical relationships.

A Practical Solution

Sears List of Subject Headings offers a core list of headings, along with patterns and examples, to guide the catalogers in creating further headings as needed. New additions are added to this database on a regular basis and search results are ranked according to relevance, whether the user is viewing a brief or full display.

Other Schemes

Description Notes

Dewey Dewey Decimal Classification
Abridged Dewey
LC classification US Library of Congress classification
LC subject heading US Library of Congress subject heading
NLM classification US National Library of Medicine medical classification
MeSH heading US National Library of Medicine Medical subject heading
NAL subject heading US National Agricultural Library subject heading
AAT Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus heading
UDC Universal Decimal Classification
BISAC Subject Heading BISAC Subject Headings are used in the North American market to categorize books based on topical content. They serve as a guideline for shelving books in physical stores and browsing books in online stores.
BISAC region code A geographical qualifier used with a BISAC subject category.
BIC subject category For all BIC subject codes and qualifiers, see
BIC geographical qualifier
BIC language qualifier (language as subject)
BIC time period qualifier
BIC educational purpose qualifier
BIC reading level and special interest qualifier
DDC-Sachgruppen der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie Used for German National Bibliography since 2004 (100 subjects). Is different from value 30.
LC fiction genre heading
Keywords Where multiple keywords or keyword phrases are sent in a single instance of the element, it is recommended that they should be separated by semi-colons (this is consistent with Library of Congress preferred practice)
BIC children’s book marketing category See’s-Books-Marketing-Classifications/
BISAC Merchandising Theme BISAC Merchandising Themes are used in addition to BISAC Subject Headings to denote an audience to which a work may be of particular appeal, a time of year or event for which a work may be especially appropriate, or to further describe fictional works that have been subject-coded by genre
Publisher’s own category code
Proprietary subject scheme As specified in
Tabla de materias ISBN Latin America
Warengruppen-Systematik des deutschen Buchhandels
Schlagwort-Normdatei (SWD) Subject heading text
Thèmes Electre Subject classification used by Electre (France)
CLIL France
DNB-Sachgruppen Deutsche Bibliothek subject groups. Used for German National Bibliography until 2003 (65 subjects). Is different from value 18.
NUGI Nederlandse Uniforme Genre-Indeling (former Dutch book trade classification)
NUR Nederlandstalige Uniforme Rubrieksindeling (Dutch book trade classification, from 2002)
ECPA Christian Book Category ECPA Christian Product Category Book Codes, consisting of up to three x 3-letter blocks, for Super Category, Primary Category and Sub-Category. See
SISO Schema Indeling Systematische Catalogus Openbare Bibliotheken (Dutch library classification)
Korean Decimal Classification (KDC) A modified Dewey Decimal Classification used in the Republic of Korea
DDC 22 ger Code. German Translation of DDC 22. Also known as DDC Deutsch 22
Bokgrupper Norwegian book trade product categories (4701)
Varegrupper Norwegian bookselling subject categories (4702)
Læreplaner Norwegian school curriculum version (4703)
Nippon Decimal Classification Japanese subject classification scheme
BSQ BookSelling Qualifier: Russian book trade classification
ANELE Materias Spain: subject coding scheme of the Asociación Nacional de Editores de Libros y Material de Enseñanza
Skolefag Norwegian primary and secondary school subject categories (4705)
Videregående Norwegian list of categories used in higher secondary education and vocational training (4706)
Undervisningsmateriell Norwegian list of categories for books and other material used in education (4707)
Norsk DDK Norwegian version of Dewey Decimal Classification
Varugrupper Swedish bookselling subject categories
SAB Swedish classification scheme
Läromedel Swedish bookselling educational subject
Förhandsbeskrivning Swedish publishers preliminary subject classification
Spanish ISBN UDC subset Controlled subset of UDC codes used by the Spanish ISBN Agency
ECI subject categories Subject categories defined by El Corte Inglés and used widely in the Spanish book trade
Soggetto CCE Classificazione commerciale editoriale (Italian book trade subject category based on BIC)
Qualificatore geografico CCE
Qualificatore di lingua CCE
Qualificatore di periodo storico CCE
Qualificatore di livello scolastico CCE
Qualificatore di età di lettura CCE
VdS Bildungsmedien Fächer Subject code list of the German association of educational media publishers
Fagkoder Undervisningsdirektoratets fagkoder for kunnskapsløftet I videregående (Norwegian educational curriculum for secondary schools) (4708)
JEL classification Journal of Economic Literature classification scheme
CSH National Library of Canada subject heading (English)
RVM Répertoire de vedettes-matière (Bibliothèque et Archives Canada et Bibliothèque de l’Université Laval) (French)
YSA Yleinen suomalainen asiasanasto: Finnish General Thesaurus
Allärs Allmän tesaurus på svenska: Swedish translation of the Finnish General Thesaurus
YKL Yleisten kirjastojen luokitusjärjestelmä: Finnish Public Libraries Classification System
MUSA Musiikin asiasanasto: Finnish Music Thesaurus
CILLA Specialtesaurus för musik: Swedish translation of the Finnish Music Thesaurus
Kaunokki Fiktiivisen aineiston asiasanasto: Finnish thesaurus for fiction
Bella Specialtesaurus för fiktivt material: Swedish translation of the Finnish thesaurus for fiction
YSO Yleinen suomalainen ontologia: Finnish General Upper Ontology
Paikkatieto ontologia Finnish Place Ontology
Suomalainen kirja-alan luokitus Finnish book trade categorisation
Sears Sears List of Subject Headings
BIC E4L BIC E4Libraries Category Headings
CSR Code Sujet Rayon: subject categories used by bookstores in France
Suomalainen oppiaineluokitus Finnish school subject categories






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