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Program for Cooperative Cataloging

The Library of Congress > Cataloging, Acquisitions > PCC > SACO > FAQ on SACO Subject Heading Proposals
  1. How do I know when to submit a proposal for anew subject heading to SACO?
  2. Is my subject heading likely to be approved asproposed?
  3. What is the purpose of subject authority research?
  4. Do proposals need to have more than one 670 (Sourcesfound) field?
  5. What authority research is needed for obscuretopics or topics not likely to be found in sources other thanin the work being cataloged?
  6. Are some research sources preferred over others?
  7. Is there a definitive list of preferred referencessources in each discipline?
  8. How much research is considered to be enough?
  9. Is it necessary to cite an "LC pattern" on allproposals?
  10. Is it true that PCC proposals are preapproved?
  11. Is there a way to track the progress of a proposedheading?

1. How do I know when to submit a proposal for a new subject heading to SACO?

If you are cataloging a work on a discrete, identifiable subject and after searching a current version of the subject authority file and checking appropriate free-floating subdivision lists, you do not find a specific subject heading to use, it's time to consider making a proposal. Remember that in many cases it's also necessary to search the name authority file because some subjects are represented by name headings, or by subdivisions used under name headings. It may also be helpful to check bibliographic records for works similar to what you are cataloging to see what subject headings have been assigned to them. You might find that an appropriate subject heading does exist in LCSH that uses another term or phrase than your work does. In that case, you might consider proposing a UF (Used For) reference (4XX field) to the existing heading from the terminology used in your work.

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2. Is my subject heading likely to be approved as proposed?

The key to having a subject heading proposal approved is to follow the general guidelines and those for various types of headings that exist in the Subject Headings Manual (SHM) (e.g., H 373 on UF references; H 1332 on biological organisms); to carry out adequate authority research to help you formulate the heading and its reference structure; and to provide citations of that research in 670 (Sources found) and/or 675 (Sources not found) fields in support of the proposed heading.

Generally, LCSH terms are approved on the basis of what is standard in contemporary American English usage. Preference is given to terminology and expressions in general use over jargon, and in some cases over technical terms, especially when precision would not suffer. Members in the Cooperative Programs Section are responsible for providing an initial review of subject heading proposals from SACO participants and will notify a contributor if a heading is not formulated according to stated guidelines, or if appropriate and sufficient authority research is not indicated. However, even a carefully prepared and researched proposal is subject to change at the editorial meeting.

The purpose of the editorial process is to maintain the overall consistency and cohesiveness of LCSH. The staff of the Policy and Standards Division (PSD) who are responsible for reviewing new proposals and participating in the editorial meetings have an overview of the LCSH system as a whole. Sometimes overriding general principles may affect the construction, style, or terminology of the new heading being proposed. In other cases, selecting the preferred form of heading may be a matter of judging the best option among several different possiblities, and the judgment of the editorial meeting may differ from the contributor.

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3. What is the purpose of subject authority research?

The purpose of doing authority research and listing the sources consulted in 670 and 675 fields of the proposal form is to demonstrate the form(s) in which the terms that are proposed as the heading and UF references are found in existing literature, i.e., to provide evidence that they have literary warrant, or to document (in the 675) that no citation to the term can be found in relevant sources. Results of authority research help in deciding which term or phrase to select as the form of heading and which to use as UF references as well as to determine appropriate BT (Broader Term) references (5XX fields). Authority research also helps in deciding whether a scope note that provides a definition or usage statement is needed, or whether a parenthetical qualifier is needed (e.g., for a term or phrase that has another meaning in a different context).

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4. Do proposals need to have more than one 670 (Sources found) field?

The first 670 field should contain the citation to the work being cataloged. SHM H 202 states that "It is seldom acceptable to cite only the work cataloged as authority for a new concept." It is necessary to seek corroboration or verification of the term or phrase proposed as the heading in other sources. Any individual work may or may not be accurate, may or may not be authoritative, or may or may not present or advocate a particular point of view; therefore most, but not necessarily all, proposals will need to have more than one 670 or a combination of a 670 and a 675 (Sources not found) fields.

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5. What authority research is needed for obscure topics or topics not likely to be found in sources other than in the work being cataloged?

Although the topic may be found only in the work being cataloged, other sources appropriate to the subject area in question should be cited (in the 675) to demonstrate that the topic was properly investigated. There may be some situations, for example, an individual archaeological site or computer language, where the only available information is found in the work being cataloged. Remember in those cases, it is useful and important to cite pertinent explanatory information from the work (in 670 $b) as succinctly as possible.

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6. Are some research sources preferred over others?

Generally, citation of authoritative reference sources is preferred over citation of usage in titles to support the choice of heading. Examples of authoritative reference sources are:

  • Dictionaries or glossaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Thesauri, and/or
  • Indexes

Either print or electronic versions of these sources may be consulted. Sources of this type present terms and phrases in context and may include definitions, usage statements, and/or synonyms. They may aid in selecting references or in drafting a scope note. Finding usage of terms and phrases in titles in large databases (e.g., LC database, OCLC's WorldCat, the WWW) may demonstrate that a particular term or phrase is in use and has literary warrant, but it doesn't necessarily indicate that it is the predominant or best way of referring to a topic. Checking for usage in titles is a good means of finding variant terminology for UF references.

Note: It is important to remember that sourcesmust be relevant to the topic being established. For example,search dictionaries such as Webster's 3rd or Random House forgeneral topics; historical dictionaries or encyclopedias forbattles; scientific dictionaries or encyclopedias for scientificconcepts; chemical dictionaries for chemical names or processes;Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) or Dorland's medical dictionaryfor medical terms, the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)for art concepts.

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7. Is there a definitive list of preferred references sources in each discipline?

No such list exists. Generally, the items selected for the reference collections of academic, research, or public libraries should prove useful. To get an idea of the types of reference sources that have been consulted and cited for various types of headings, you could look at the 670 and 675 fields of subject headings established since 1986 ( i.e., subject authority records with the prefix "sh 86" or later).

Note: The SACO home page contains a "List of Web resources for use in preparing SACO proposals" (developed by Adam Schiff, University of Washington), which includes selected authoritative sources, especially in the fields of geographic names and natural history, that may be useful for authority research. This is a "work in progress" and participants are invited to send the URL of their favorite research site to aschiff@u.washington.edu for inclusion in the list.

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8. How much research is considered to be enough?

SACO does not require that catalogers perform exhaustive research. The goal is subject authority research that is good enough to indicate a consensus of usage in relevant sources. The quantity of authority work deemed sufficient will vary with the topic and what the consulted reference sources reveal. If the information found in the work being cataloged is confirmed in at least one relevant, authoritative source, that is probably all that is needed in most cases. If conflicting information is found in the first two sources checked, further sources may need to be checked in search of a "tiebreaker." It is sometimes necessary to weigh the information found in various sources and to determine which source is more authoritative or current.

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9. Is it necessary to cite an "LC pattern" on all proposals?

Not all proposals need a citation of an "LC pattern" in a 952 (Local note) field. Citations of existing subject headings generally support the style of a proposed subject heading while citations of authority research in 670 and 675 fields support the substance. It is helpful to look for analogous existing headings to decide whether to propose a heading as a phrase or as a subdivision under a main heading, or to determine what adjectival qualifier is already in use for a particular nationality or ethnic group. In those cases, the analogous headings should be cited as an LC pattern in a 952 field. It is usually unnecessary to look for LC patterns when proposing a subject heading for a named entity that is established according to guidelines in the SHM (e.g., geographic headings that are formulated according H 690 and qualified according to H 810; buildings and other structures that are formulated and qualified according to H 1334). In some cases, you might be misled by following the pattern of an existing heading if it is not analogous to your proposed heading (e.g., a geographic heading with extra information in its qualifier to break a conflict). With named entities, it is advisable to follow the rules in the SCM and cite the specific instruction sheet followed in the 952 field.

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10. Is it true that PCC proposals are preapproved?

Proposals from PCC libraries are considered preapproved once these have been reviewed in the Coop Section and sent to PSD for editorial review and inclusion on the next tentative Library of Congress Subject Headings List. That means that if no report of a problem regarding a proposal is received from the Coop Section within a reasonable amount of time, the proposed heading may be assigned in the bibliographic record for the work being cataloged and that record may be contributed to a bibliographic utility with the understanding that it may need to be revised at a later date if the subject heading proposal is changed at the weekly editorial meeting.

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11. Is there a way to track the progress of a proposed heading?

Yes, currently there are two ways to do this:

  1. The tentative Library of Congress Subject Headings Weekly List is linked on the SACO home page. By viewing this list SACO participants may ascertain the list number and date that a proposed heading is scheduled for review.
  2. Once a proposal has been reviewed and approved, participants may search the PSD web site for the official Approved Library of Congress Subject Headings Lists to ascertain the form in which the heading was approved for inclusion in LCSH.

If there are questions on the status of a proposal, not discerned by the two searches above, participants should send an e-mail inquiry to their institution's SACO liaison or to the SACO account at saco@loc.gov.