Subject Headings: What Are They and How Can They Help Me?

Subject Headings:

What Are They and How Can They Help Me?

A subject heading in a library catalogue usually indicates what the book/item is about. For fiction, a subject heading may also be a genre term (i.e. historical fiction, science fiction, etc.).

Libraries choose one word or phrase to represent similar concepts; this gathers like items together.

For example, you can search for “World War II”, “World War 2”, “World War Two”, and you will get different results for each, as most searching (keyword searching) searches those exact characters that you’ve typed in. The phrase that most libraries use to represent WWII is “World War, 1939-1945”

So, how do you find out what phrase to use for World War II (or for whatever other topic you are looking for)? Do a keyword search in our catalogue to start, then click on the title of one that looks that it will fit your topic.

Scroll down at bit to the Details section and you’ll see the Subjects:

You may also see subjects in the information for ebooks and journal articles, and can use these in a similar manner.

Now, how can you use them to find more information on your topic?

  1. Usually they are clickable. Click on them to see what else is available with that exact heading.
  2. Make a note of those headings that might work for you and use them in another search.
  3. You can do a “Subject Browse” search in our catalogue.

Browsing Subject Headings

Browse searches are an alphabetical list. The benefit to a browse search is that it will show you “subheadings” in addition to the main heading (in alphabetical order).

In our catalogue, you can do a Subject Browse search by clicking BROWSE in the blue banner at the top, then use the drop-down menu to select Browse by Subject. (Note that neither capitalization nor punctuation matter.)

Still using the World War II example, here is what your subject browse will look like, with some subheadings.

You can see that the subheadings bring out more information about the topic. If you scroll to the bottom of the page, there are arrows that will move you forward or backward (alphabetically) in the list of subject headings.

When you see a heading that sounds like it might be useful, click on it and it will take you to the list of items we have with that subject heading.

If you’d like to see our slide tutorial on this topic, you’ll find it here:

http://library.stmu.ca/?page_id=1401

As always, please do come ask for help at the desk if you want to know more about subject headings and how they can help with your searches!


Blog Post Written By: Cindy Wiebe, Cataloging &  Collections Specialist

Cindy has been working at St. Mary’s since 2001, mostly in the back room as the STMU Cataloguer Extraordinaire. She has three cats and volunteers for the MEOW Foundation. She is on LibraryThing, GoodReads, and she is a voracious reader!

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