Library of Congress

Program for Cooperative Cataloging

The Library of Congress > Cataloging, Acquisitions > PCC > SACO > Middle Eastern-related Subject Funnel Project (SACO-At-Large Summary 2008 Annual)

Middle Eastern-related Subject Funnel Project

Joyce Bell
Princeton University

I'm the Head of the Middle East Librarians Association SACO Funnel, but I like to think of myself as a funnelhead. The funnel that I coordinate is for Middle East related topics. It all started with the Association's curmudgeon; I'm not being disrespectful, he has actually signed his e-mails with that title. He not only expressed what is obvious to catalogers in my area - that LCSH headings don't exist for many topics we encounter, particularly for headings about Islam - but he suggested the Association organize itself to fill in the gaps.

As is often the case with large groups, many people thought it was a good idea, but nothing happened for a while, but the seed had been planted. The Association's "Committee on Cataloging" conducted a survey about various cataloging topics which included a question about the perceived adequacy of subject headings.

As you might have already guessed by my presence on this panel, there was a rather overwhelming feeling that LCSH does not provide the depth of subject analysis for Middle Eastern topics needed for the material we catalog. Since I happened to be on the Association's Committee for Cataloging at the time, and since I was already a NACO funnelhead, I volunteered to set up a mechanism for members of our Association to contribute headings related to Middle Eastern topics.

Hebraica librarians have a separate and very active organization, with their own SACO funnel, so the MELA funnel contributors are Arabic and Persian catalogers. There aren't a lot of us around, and we tend to be pretty isolated at most institutions, so we haven't developed a strong tradition of PCC participation, although this is changing. There was the challenge, "how to make it easy to get members to contribute headings and thus encourage participation?" The Library of Congress allowed MELA, the Association, to join as a member of the existing Arabic NACO Funnel. In turn, I accept submissions from any member of MELA, all of which are contributed under the Association's code. MELA members don't need any planning or setup at all - any member can begin submitting SACO headings at any time simply by e-mailing me a completed SACO form.

We're relatively new, having started submitting headings in January 2007, and quite small - so far MELA members at 5 different institutions in the U.S. and Egypt have submitted a total of 17 proposals. The two libraries in Egypt have been particularly active. Our volume of contributions are modest, but our headings are often quite specialized. The funnel has been responsible for some straightforward headings like:

  • Money laundering (Islamic law)
  • *Christian poetry, Arabic
as well as the much more specialized headings like:
  • *Mida Ľah - ablution basins and fountains
  • *Adhan - call to prayer
These examples illustrate my greatest difficulty as I vet submissions - determining whether or not there is an equivalent English concept when I receive a proposal for an Arabic or Persian term.

The funnel is not high volume and therefore doesn't have any particular impact on a daily basis for me. The straightforward, pattern-type headings like "Fathers and sons in the Koran" take me very little time to review and submit to LC. I check that the citation form is correct, appropriate references have been made, diacritics are represented correctly for the online SACO form and verify the pattern. If the information is present and largely correct, it will probably take around 15 minutes to review and submit. Other types of headings representing new concepts take me much longer - sometimes several hours, and once even involved a desperate phone call to John Mitchell at LC who helped me with a submission which ended up turning into 3 proposals.

Because the funnel doesn't have a set membership, we don't have a discussion list, or any regular communication. Announcements encouraging participation and pointing to documentation have gone out on the Association's listserv. Now that we've been around for awhile, it is probably time to think about other attempts to encourage additional MELA members to participate.

Training remains the biggest obstacle to recruiting new participants. When the Funnel started we had a training session at the Association's annual meeting which was quite well attended - by those members who are able to attend the annual meeting. Face-to-face training opportunities are scarce and for some, like the contributors from Egyptian libraries, nonexistent. If only I can get Princeton to approve that travel request for a training trip to Cairo! Since that initial meeting, the only training has been through documentation and examples I posted online - something else that needs some more attention now we're established.

So, for all those MELA members in the audience, think about submitting that missing subject!

The Arabic Subject Funnel Project Home Page provides a list of the participants, and an introduction to the Funnel.