Auburn University Libraries Cataloging Department Auburn University Libraries Auburn University Libraries Auburn University Libraries Cataloging Department
English to Chinese (Simplified) English to French English to German English to Italian English to Japanese English to Korean English to Russian English to Spanish
Chat With A Librarian Call Us At 334-844-4500 or 800-466-0387 Ask A Librarian Via Email

A Guide To Subject Analysis: How To Assign Subject Headings and Call Numbers

These guidelines are intended to be used with member copy cataloging. DLC copy cataloging should continue to be accepted as is, unless you spot something really glaring. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules for assigning subject headings and call numbers. A lot of subject analysis relies on judgement calls. When in doubt or completely stumped, ask the appropriate subject cataloger.

For the appropriate subject cataloger, see Who's Who in Cataloging?

I. Subject Headings

A. General guidelines

Subject headings come from the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). It is currently available as a tape load in Voyager, from Cataloger's Desktop, and in print (the big red books). In Cataloger's Desktop and print, the LCSH is basically a hierarchical outline going from broader terms to narrower terms. This outline has been converted to subject authority records in Voyager with codes in each authority record to indicate broader, narrower, and related terms and see or see also references. Rules on assigning subheadings (also known as subdivisions) come from the Library of Congress Subject Cataloging Manual and the Free-Floating Subdivision Guide.

All subject headings must be in the authorized form found in the LCSH. Within MARC records, there are six fields for subject headings. The 600, 610, and 611 fields are for personal names, corporate bodies, and conferences that are the subject of a work. The 630 field is for uniform titles. The two main subject fields are the 650 field for subjects and the 651 field for geographical places. Within records, order all subject headings according to their relative importance in the text, except for name and title headings (600s, 610s, 611s, and 630s) which come first. Only assign a subject heading if the topic is covered in at least 20% of the book, or if it is important to Auburn. Ask a cataloger if you are not sure about the latter.

As a general rule, assign 2-4 subject headings per book. Some works are so specific that they will only have one heading. Others are so broad that only one heading is appropriate. The vast majority will require 2-4 subject headings. Try not to get carried away and assign more than 6 headings.

If you do come up with more than 6 headings, try using a broader term that will encompass most of them instead. When working with several terms that seem to be equivalent, choose a broader term as your first term. Ex. "Dogs $x Diseases" and "Cats $x Diseases" can both be under the broader term "Pet medicine." You would still add the narrower terms as additional subject headings.

B. Tips for determining subject headings

Verify the subject headings already on the piece to see if they are valid (authorized). This can be done two ways, depending on the subject heading and whether it has subdivisions (subheadings).

Method 1. Do "request authorities" within a Voyager record to call up any authority records associated with the subject headings on the record. This method doesn't work with subject headings which have subdivisions (subheadings) that are "free-floating" or unestablished in an authority record. You won't be able to pull up any authority records for subject headings that are subdivided by a place name, either.

Method 2. Do a subject search in Voyager or Cataloger's Desktop for each subject heading that does not show up when you request authorities. Search only the subject heading itself, excluding all subdivisions, to make sure it is valid. Valid headings in Voyager will have "Auth/Ref" or "Auth" next to them on the list of search results. You can see the authority record by clicking on the term and selecting "authority." Valid headings in Cataloger's Desktop will be in bold type. See the next section for how to verify subdivisions.

When checking subject headings, look at the broader and narrower terms to see if they might be a closer fit for the subject. In Voyager, broader terms will be given inside the authority record. Narrower terms will be listed under the main authority record when you call up the authority record. On Cataloger's Desktop, BT is for broader terms and NT for narrower ones. You may wish to add a broader or narrower term as a secondary heading, particularly if the term in question would not be found through a keyword search.

Look for key words in the title, table of contents, abstract (if present), foreword, introduction, conclusion, and cover. Do a subject search for each key word in Voyager or Cataloger's Desktop just as you would when verifying a heading. In Voyager, if your search term is displayed with "Ref" next to it, use the 150 field on the authority record as your subject heading. Ex. The title contains the words "Aeronautical engineering." Checking this with a subject search shows the correct form on the authority record to be "Aerospace engineering." Add a 650 field for the latter, authorized form.

Remove any headings that don't seem to fit the subject of the book after you have looked at the book and decided what the topic or emphasis is. The same rule applies for subdivisions. This is a judgement call, so if you are unsure, leave it in or ask a cataloger.

C. Assigning or verifying subdivisions (subheadings)

Subdivisions (subheadings) bring out certain aspects of a broader subject heading. Ex. "Diseases" is a subdivision under "Dogs" used for books about all the diseases that dogs can develop. Subdivisions can be one of several types. They may be established, free-floating, geographical, chronological, or form subdivisions.

Subdivisions usually follow the order of subtopic, place, chronological, and form subdivisions. Ex. "Rice $x Diseases and pests $z Alabama $v Handbooks, manuals, etc." Ex. "Aeronautics $x History $y 19th century $v Congresses." Subdivisions are preceded by a "$x" for topical (subject) subdivisions (established or free-floating), "$z" for geographical (place) subdivisions, "$y" for chronological subdivisions, and "$v" for form subdivisions.

Established subdivisions

Some subject headings already have established subdivisions. These are the ones given in authority records in Voyager or listed under valid headings in the LCSH on Cataloger's Desktop. Established subject heading and subdivision combinations given in authority records take priority over free-floating subdivsions. Ex. The free-floating subdivision "Government policy" would not be used under "Technology" because there is an established subject heading for "Technology and state."

Free-floating subdivisions and pattern headings

Free-floating subdivisions are generic subdivisions that can be assigned to topics that don't have established subdivisions. Ex. Instead of establishing the subdivision "Economic aspects" under every work that discussses a topic from an economic standpoint, the cataloger is free to assign that subdivision whenever it is needed, within guidelines in the LC Subject Cataloging Manual.

To verify or assign free-floating subdivisions, look them up in the Free-Floating Subdivision Guide. The guide is an alphabetical list of all free-floating subdivisions. Each subdivision will have the number of one or more rules found in the Subject Cataloging Manual. These rules spell out all the topics to which the cataloger can assign that subdivision. Most generic free-floating subdivisions are listed in H1095 in the Subject Cataloging Manual. H1095 gives each term and explains how you can use it. Ex. In H1095, "Heating and ventilation: Use under types of buildings, factories, vehicles, and other constructions." The subdivision could not be used with every heading, just under subject headings for buildings, factories, and vehicles. Always check the rule in the Subject Cataloging Manual before you assign a subdivision to see what limitations a subdivision may have. Also, never string together multiple free-floating subdivisions, particularly after established subdivisions. Each subject heading should never have more than two $x subdivisions (established or free-floating). If the topic is that complicated, use several subject headings with appropriate subdivisions or repeat the main subject heading and use a different subdivision with each repetition.

Pattern headings are categories of certain topics that share a list of allowable free-floating subdivisions. Ex. "Genetics" has a reference to H1147, the pattern heading for "Animals (General)," to H1148 "Domestic Animals" and to H1180 "Plants and Crops." When you look up H1147 you get a scope note that describes all the subject headings that fall into the category. In this example, the subdivisions in H1147 are only authorized for use under a specific animal or type of animal. When you go through the list of subdivisions, you find "Genetics" is one of them. A subdivision like "Genetics" may belong to more than one pattern heading, but it cannot be used as a free-floating subdivison under any subject heading outside of these categories. The cataloger cannot assign it to anything but animal and plants, although it may also be used if it is an established subdivision under a subject heading in the LCSH or an authority record.

Geographic subdivisions

Geographic subdivisions are assigned to subject headings for works that discuss the topic in a specific geographical area. Only assign a geographic subdivision if it's clear the work is about that area. Never assign headings like "United States" unless it is clear they are about something in the United States. Just being published in the U.S. isn't enough. The LCSH and the Free-Floating Subdivsions Guide have "(May subd geog)" after every subject heading and subdivision that can be subdivided geographically. In Voyager, the authority record should have an "i" in the 008 fixed field under "subdivision."

Place $z geographic subdivisions after the last subject heading or subdivision that can be subdivided geographically. Ex. "Dogs" is subdivided geographically. The established subdivision "Breeding" may also be subdivided geographically, but the free-floating subdivision "Reproduction"is not. Therefore, a book about the breeding and reproduction of dogs in Alabama would use "Dogs $x Breeding $z Alabama" and "Dogs $z Alabama $x Reproduction." The latter example is rarely seen and would probably not be used unless there is something about the environment in Alabama that affects dog reproduction. Another example that occurs more often would be "Catfishes $z Alabama $x Identification," since "Identification" cannot be subdivided geographically, but "Catfishes" can. The rule is the same for all subject headings, established subdivisions, and free-floating subdivisions: some can be divided geographically and some cannot, so verify all of them.

If a geographic subdivision is used, it must be applied to all of the subjects which can be subdivided geographically. The exception to this rule applies to works covering different areas such as "United States" vs. "Alabama" in the same piece. Ex. "Public health $z United States" and "Public health $z Alabama" for a book that discusses public health in Alabama and compares it with public health in the rest of the United States.

Geographic subdivisions are usually inverted for smaller places. Ex. "Selma (Ala.)" is the authorized form of a subject heading for a book about Selma, Alabama. If it were a subject heading, it would be in a 651 field as "Selma (Ala.)" But a book about cotton grown in Selma, Alabama would have the heading "Cotton $z Alabama $z Selma" not "Cotton $z Selma (Ala.)." The part in parenthesis is inverted, i.e. placed first.

Chronological subdivisions

Chronological subdivisions are for works that discuss a topic during a period in history. They are usually established, but may be free-floating under certain pattern headings like history. Ex. "Aeronautics $x History $y 19th century."

Form subdivisons

Finally, there are form subdivisions which refer to the form of the item, not the subject matter contained in it. Ex. "Handbooks, manuals, etc." or "Dictionaries." If a form subdivision such as "Dictionaries," "Periodicals," or "Congresses" is used, it must be attached to all headings. It is always placed as the last subdivision. Form subdivisions are free-floating, so always check the Subject Cataloging Manual for the specific rule. Ex. Rule H1540 "Dictionaries" gives instructions on when to use the term and how to apply it. The rule has sections to cover foreign language to English dictionaries as well as regular English dictionaries and subject dictionaries. Some free-floating form subdivisions can also be used as subject subdivision. Ex. Works about databases would use the subdivision "Databases" as a $x subject subdivision, while actual databases would use a subfield $v form subdivision.

II. Call Numbers

Call numbers consist of a base class number and a cutter. The class numbers correspond to particular subjects and they are taken from the Library of Congress Classification Schedules. The cutter is an alpha numeric designation derived from the main entry of a work. It distinquishes that work from others in the same class number. Cuttering by main entry also makes it possible to put items on the shelves in alphabetical order by author and title within a class. Since LC doesn't update the schedules every year, we have access to them through the updated paper schedules published by Gale and the Classification Plus portion of Cataloger's Desktop.

Each schedule covers a branch of knowledge, for example, "H" for some of the social sciences, "Q" for the sciences, and "T" for engineering. Class numbers within the schedules are alpha numeric, with one or two letters for each broad subject combined with a range of numbers for specific topics within those subjects. The LC schedules are not strictly hierarchical like the LCSH, but they do have a rough hierarchy in outline form, with each indentation indicating a narrower range of topics. Certain forms of works like serials, congresses, and dictionaries come first at the beginning of the broad topics. Next come general works on the topic, and then more specific aspects of the topic. Some specific topics also include forms of works at the beginning of their number range.

Ex. A sample from the Q schedule (Parentheses refer to the broader topic, which is not restated)

QC Physics (a broad subject within the Q schedule)
QC1 Periodicals, societies, congresses, serial collections, yearbooks (in Physics)
QC21 General works (in Physics)
QC501-721 Electricity and Magnetism (in Physics)
QC505 Dictionaries (in Physics-Electricity and Magnetism)
QC518-522 General works (in Physics-Electricity and Magnetism)
QC528.A-Z Special topics (in Physics-Electricity and Magnetism)
QC528.E4 Electromechanical analogies (a particular special topic in Physics-Electricity and Magnetism)

Whenever there is a number followed by A-Z, the letters refer to a subject cutter, such as ".E4" for "Electromechanical analogies" in the example above. It can also stand for a place, as "By region or state, A-Z," where the cutter represents a particular region or state, eg. ".A2" for "Alabama." See the handout for the list of state cutters. Subject cutters are used in the schedules for special or specific subjects. By using a list of cutters, LC can more easily add new special topics rather than create a new number for every new topic. There can never be more than two cutters per record, a subject cutter and a main entry cutter. If there is one, the subject cutter is always placed with the class number in the 050 or 090 subfield $a. Main entry cutters are always placed in the subfield $b.

Each schedule also has a list of tables for that schedule. Tables provide expansion of certain number ranges, usually for places, but they can provide other common information as well. Most tables involve adding a number from the table to the base number in the schedule. If you are unsure about how to apply tables, ask a cataloger.

The main entry cutter consists of the first letter of the main entry followed by one to three numbers based on the next few letters. When assigning a main entry cutter, use the chart I gave you. Sometimes the cutter will conflict with another cutter in the same class number or it will be out of order in the shelflist and thus on the shelf. When either situation happens, you must "slide" the cutter. First, look at the cutters already in the shelflist and decide where the new cutter must fit into the list. Then add a digit or change the last digit so that it will file in that place. This process is called "interpolation." There are times when the cutter table does not provide a specific number for the second letter of the main entry. You must also interpolate when this is the case. For the two most common cases, I use "48" where the second letter is "H", and "55" where the second letter is "L". Never assign a cutter number which ends in 0 or 1. Add a 2 to the cutter only for supplements or related items that you want to sit together on the shelf. End the call number with the date of the publication as found in either the 260 and Date fields or the 111 field for a conference.

The first topical or geographic subject heading (field 650 or 651) must match the call number for that subject, if possible. If you have two subject headings of equal importance, and there is no broader term that will cover both of them, choose the one that will have the more specific corresponding call number. Almost always prefer classification by place (see above) if that is an option.

Some subject heading authority records give a corresponding call number. These should always be verified by looking in the schedules because they are sometimes inaccurate. If there is a call number on the record, look it up in the call number schedule and verify that it is the correct call number.

If no call number is suggested in the subject authority record or on the piece, use the appropriate call number schedule to determine a call number. To do this, look for the main subject in the brief lists at the beginning of the schedule or in the index, then browse the section for the main subject. On Cataloger's Desktop, use a key word search for caption words in the schedule.

Hint: If you are sure of the subject headings but not the call number, do a subject heading search on the first heading and compare the call numbers for bibliographic records containing that subject heading. The reverse is also true. If you know the call number, but are unsure of the subject headings, do a call number search and look at the subject headings on the bibliographic records. Or do a keyword search and look at the given subject headings. Be careful about looking at records that have not been cataloged yet.

These guidelines are not absolute. With the more nebulous subjects, it often requires a judgement call in the assigning of subject headings and call numbers. Always ask a subject cataloger for help if you are not sure or confused.

III. Notes, subject headings, and call numbers for certain types of materials.

All conferences and editions should have the same set of subject headings and the same call numbers, including the cutter. If a later conference or edition covers an additional area, go ahead and add an extra heading that will cover the new area. Future editions will also carry the new subject heading. If a conference covers different subjects from year to year, use one broad heading if appropriate and add headings to the individual records as needed. For conferences, the fixed field "Conf. Publication" should have a "1". If the conference is named on the title page, the name should be traced in a 111 field. If the conference appears somewhere other than the title page, it is traced in a 711 field, but the cutter number is still that for the conference. If the conference name is in quotes in the book and there is no 111 field or 711 field, see a cataloger to have an authority record created.

Computer manuals receive a 630 field for the name of the software and a 650 field for the type of software or computer area. The 630 field will also usually have "(Computer file)" after the name for the software. Ex. A book on using Microsoft Windows would have a name heading "630 0 0 $a Microsoft Windows (Computer file)" and a subject heading "650 b 0 $a Windows (Computer programs)" for a windows-based operating system. Computer programming manuals have "Programming Electronic computers)" as an additional heading. Books on the Internet and the Web that are technical go in their respective "TK5105.875.I57" for Internet and "TK5105.888" for the Web. Books about certain resources on the Web like guides to science materials go under the number for the subject matter, with the subject heading "World Wide Web (Information retrieval system)" as a secondary term.

Textbooks on subjects like chemistry, mathematics, or physics receive only the broad heading for the overall subject. They do not receive the subdivisions "Study and teaching" or Textbooks." "Study and teaching" is reserved for books about how to teach the subject.

Geological guidebooks for field trips at a conference have one set of headings with "Guidebooks" and a repeated set of the same headings with the subdivision "Congresses."

Biographies have a 600 field for the person being discussed plus one or more 650 fields that are either a class of persons or a subject with the subdivision "Biographies." Ex. A pilot would get the following headings: "600 1 0 $a (Pilot's name)", "650 b 0 $a Air pilots.", "650 b 0 $a Aeronautics $b Biography." Biographical call numbers have the biography number for the subject with a cutter for the biographee's name in the 090 subfield $a, and either A3 in the 090 subfield $b if it is an autobiography, or a cutter for the biographer.

English translations have a 240 field for the title in the original language followed by "$l English". The call number is the same as that for the original language, with 13 added to the cutter if it is an English language translation. There are other numbers to use if it is a French translation, etc. Ask a cataloger.

Use the following subdivisions for certain aspects of a topic that do not already have an established heading:
"Environmental aspects"
"Health aspects"
"Economic aspects" for topics that don't have a subject heading for the industry.
"Political aspects"
"Social aspects"

All of these can be divided geographically.

Technical reports are treated as regular monographs (books).

Only use a corporate main entry (110 field) if the monograph deals with the inner workings of a corporate body or is about a corporate body. Works with the corporate body as an author that do not meet these criteria are done as a 710 field.

Reports of the National Research Council, the National Academy of Science, or the Institute of Medicine do not get a 110 field for the committee. Use a 710 field with the form that is established in the OCLC authority file. If there isn't one, see a cataloger. The committee should be transcribed in the 245 field with all parent agencies in order and separated by commas. Ex. "Committee on Elementary-Particle Physics, Board on Physics and Astronomy, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications, National Research Council." Do not trace any of the parent bodies. Assign subject headings and call numbers as for other monographs.

Special issues and supplements of journals are cataloged as monographs. They receive subject headings appropriate to their contents instead of the subject headings on the journal record. The do not receive the subdivision "Periodicals." They must have a 500 note, preferably quoted from the piece, which gives the parent jouranl name and numbering. They also have a 730 field for the journal title with the numbering. Ex. "Journal name. $p Supplement. $n vol. #, suppl. #."

Works on the development or design of computer software receive the headings "650 b 0 $a Software engineering" and "650 b 0 $a Computer software $x Development." The call number is assigned to the subject that is more prominent in the piece.

Dates consisting of a month and year are quoted in a 500 field note. Ex. "March, 1998." Remember to add "--Cover" or "--T.p. verso" as appropriate.

If there is no title page, give the 500 notes "Cover title" or "Caption title" as appropriate. Prefer the cover title. If the cover, caption, spine, and/or running title are different, make a note in the 246 field with the appropriate indicator.