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Subject heading

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You can use a subject search to find works about topics, people, organisations, places, government bodies, using terms taken from the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCHS).

This is a list of standard words or phrases used to provide a uniform or controlled vocabulary for searching for materials by subject.

Every item in our catalogue has been assigned a term taken from this list, to describe the major and related topics of the work, and to enable you to retrieve all works in the collection on a particular topic using one uniform term, regardless of which terms have been used by the authors.

A print copy of the Library of Congress Subject Headings can be found on the third floor of the Reid Arts and Business Library, at Q 025.49 1996 LIB.

The subject index is not a keyword or "free text" index. It is a search where you must use the heading or term specified in the Library of Congress Subject Headings list.

  • To find works about head pain, use the LCSH headache.
  • To find works about gaols, use the LCSH prisons.
  • To find works about civil liberties, use the LCSH civil rights.
  • To find works about women managers, use the LCSH women executives.

The advantage of searching with LC Subject Headings is that you can use one term to search, rather than a range of synonyms. For example, a search by the term "ethics" will retrieve materials on values, moral philosophy, morality, moral values, applied ethics and so on.

Examples are given below of different types of subject searches:

intellectual property
Personal name
bronte charlotte
Personal name/title
bronte charlotte 1816 1855 jane eyre
Government body
united states dept of the treasury
amnesty international
Place name
paris texas

If you are not sure of an exact subject heading use a keyword search.

How to search by subject heading

  1. Finding the appropriate term
  2. Word order
  3. Spelling

Finding the appropriate term

Before searching by subject heading, it is important to establish the Library of Congress Subject Heading or term most appropriate to your subject or topic.

You can do this by:

  • doing a keyword search to find an item that is related to the topic you want. Look at the subject headings (these are hyperlinks) and click on a heading to go to a list of other items on the same topic
  • consulting the Library of Congress Subject Headings list
  • asking a librarian for help.

Once you have established the appropriate Library of Congress Subject Heading, type as much of the term as you wish, beginning with the first word.

The system will retrieve all the records containing headings which begin with the characters entered in the search statement. Entering less of the subject heading will find more items.

Entering film will find film adaptations, film catalogues, film directors and the like.

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Word order

A subject heading search looks for an exact letter-for-letter match of the word(s) you enter, in the order you enter them. The order in which you enter your search is therefore important.

Enter the subject heading in exact word order as specified in the print copy of the Library of Congress Subject Headings. If the subject heading is not entered in correct word order the system will not retrieve relevant records.

The result of a subject heading search is a list of headings that begin with your search term. To view an individual record for a particular heading, click on the heading.

Personal names must be entered with the surname first. If you enter a person’s first name first, the system will not find it but will give you the option to change your search to a keyword search, or you can do the subject search again entering the person’s surname first.

  • To find works about Virginia Woolf, type woolf virginia.

Corporate names of organisations and government bodies must be entered in normal word order (see table of search examples above).

  • To find works about the United Nations, type united nations.

To find works BY a person or corporate or government body, enter the name as an author search.

A subject search can be used to find works about particular titles by entering the author's full name and the title

  • To find works about Hamlet, type shakespeare william 1564 1616 hamlet.
  • To find works about Jane Eyre, type bronte charlotte 1816 1855 jane eyre.

If you are not sure of the author's full name and dates, type in the surname, then browse through the list of headings to find the title you want.

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American spelling is used in Library of Congress Subject Headings:

  • aging not ageing
  • behavior not behaviour
  • organization not organisation
  • pediatric not paediatric
  • theater not theatre.

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