Post Classifieds

Subject discovery and the borderless library aid students

By Joseph McKinley
On November 30, 2017

Creative Commons photo from Wikimedia Commons. Photo of the west front of
Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

In the October Communiqué, Steve Sickles gave you an overview of the Dewey Decimal Classification system and how it is used to locate books or other library resources, physically located in the library. 

The Library of Congress (LOC) uses a different classification system, predictably named, Library of Congress classification. Most large research libraries use LC classification for assigning call numbers, but there is often more depth to a book or article than a single subject can convey. That’s where subject heading classification comes in.

Since many books cover numerous subjects, more identifying information than just a call number is needed. Subject headings are one of the best ways to discover items in a library catalog. The old fashioned card catalog (now online) provides a framework for organizing information in three fundamental categories: Title, Author, Subject. College students beginning subject research can benefit from using subject searches in the information gathering phase of a project. It is a great way to begin topic research. 

Consider this example – you found a book in the catalog that is slightly off target from what you need. In the catalog’s item description, you see a set of subject headings for that book. Just click on the subject (hyperlinked) that best suits you, and it will return a full list of all cataloged items with the same subject heading. Now you’re going to be heading in a good direction for discovery. This holds true in the online databases as well.

The online database, EBSCOhost, has a module called Academic Search Elite, which is one of the best starting points for research. It is particularly useful for finding general research information, and it contains a subject search tool which can help you discover the controlled vocabulary for the topic in mind. 

When starting a new search there, take notice of the “Subjects” pulldown at the top of the screen. Controlled vocabulary is library jargon: it means that there is one word for one subject. The purpose of controlled vocabulary is to reduce redundancy in the massive index of subjects. Subjects you discover in the item descriptions are considered to be controlled vocabulary; controlled by the LOC. 

Don’t limit your searches to EBSCOhost and our catalog. We have many databases, like Gale, filled with useful information and articles. With regard to information access, many people don’t realize that libraries are borderless in a variety of ways. 

Remember that if you need something that the library doesn’t have, you can still discover items outside of the KCC libraries using your computer to browse the catalog. 

If the best material for you is outside of the library, you can request an interlibrary loan for the items that best match your needs. This can all be done without stepping into the library.

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