Answered By: askalibrarian askalibrarian
Last Updated: Aug 16, 2016     Views: 4

Hi Katie,

Let's start by talking about what subject headings are:  they are words and phrases used to describe what a book or other resource is about.  The ones we use in the Bailey library are drawn from official lists provided by the Library of Congress (LOC headings) and the National Library of Medicine (MeSH headings).  These lists are called a "controlled vocabulary."    A keyword, on the other hand, is simply a word that appears somewhere in the item record--it could be in the title, the summary, or even the author's name.  The advantage of subject headings is that they are more precise:  a book could have the word "reading" in the title but it's really about mind-reading or Reading, Pennsylvania.  A subject heading is chosen by a human being to indicate the main topic or topics of the book.  The disadvantage of subject headings is that you have to know, or figure out, which words or phrases the controlled vocabulary uses for for your topic.  Sometimes they aren't obvious.  

So, what your instructor is asking you to do here is figure out what words and phrases the controlled vocabulary uses for the topics of your course.  Once you know them, you'll be able to use them in searches to get the most relevant results.  

To find subject headings, start by going to the Bailey Library catalog.  In the "Search By" menu, choose "subject keyword."  This option will show you all of the subject headings that contain the word you enter, anywhere in the heading.  If you type in "reading," you'll see a list of several hundred subject headings and subheadings which include the word "reading."  (Only about 50 headings will display on each screen. Use the "next" and "previous" buttons at the bottom of the page to navigate through the list.)  You'll have to look over them and figure out which ones actually match the topic of your course.    

Another way to search is to choose "Subject Heading Search" from the catalog menu.  This option searches for headings that start with the word you enter.  When you type in "reading," you'll see that the main heading "Reading" has a little oval next to it that says "Note/Ref."  (Other headings may have an oval that says "info.")  By clicking on the oval, you can read a note from a cataloger that explains what the subject heading means and suggests some others you might want to try.  

You can use the same methods to find the headings for "literacy."  

To find headings for "reading" and "literacy," I think these two techniques will work.  However, for some topics, the subject headings are hard to guess.  A "back way" to find the right headings is to look up the title or author of a book already you know deals with the subject you want.  The full record (accessible by clicking the title in our catalog) will contain the subject headings for that book.  These are clickable links that take you to see the list of headings beginning with that entry.  

For both of these subjects, there are a lot of subheadings:  for instance, there are subheadings for literacy in various countries, like "Literacy--Japan" and "literacy--United States."  Sometimes there are sub-subheadings, like "Literacy--United States--History."  I am not sure how far you are expected to go with listing subheadings--that would be a question for the professor teaching the class.  He/she may want you to copy the whole list, or to choose the ones that seem most important or relevant to the course.  

I hope this helps!  If this wasn't quite what you wanted to know, or if you still have questions, feel free to write back, or stop by or call.


Alex Boyd

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