Search Tips

Library of Congress Subject Headings

A Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) is a specific word or phrase used to describe the subject of a book or other information resource. LCSH can help you search the library catalog more efficiently and lead you to the best sources of information on your topic.

Searching the catalog by subject heading allows you to find all items on a given topic using one standard word or phrase rather than having to think of every possible wording that might be used to discuss the topic in day to day language.

Searching by subject heading also helps you avoid long lists of items that contain your search terms, but are not actually focused on the specific topic in which you are interested.

You can look up the correct LCSH by using the big red books behind the Research Assistance Desk.

If you search for a term that is not used (not in bold print in the red books), you will be referred to the correct term to use. Once you find the listing for the correct term, you will also see suggestions of

    broader term (BT)
    narrower term (NT)
    related term (RT)

that may help you create the best possible search for your topic.

Finding the correct LCSH can be critical to finding the best information on your topic. In the example below, notice that a search on “death penalty” may miss important sources, because the LCSH that is used to describe books on this topic is actually “Capital punishment”. You may also want to consider related and narrower terms such as “Executions …”, “Death row”,
or “Electrocution”.

A sample entry from the Library of Congress Subject Headings, 23rd edition:


UF: Used for

BT: Broader Term

RT: Related Term

SA: See also

NT: Narrower Term

(May Subd Geog): Place names may follow the heading

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT (may subd geog)

UF: Abolition of capital punishment

    Death penalty

BT: Criminal law


RT: Executions and executioners

NT: Crucifixion

    Death row
    Discrimination in capital punishment
    Last meal before execution
    — Religious aspects
    —-Baptists, [Catholic Church, etc.]
    —-Buddhism, [Christianity, etc]
    Capital punishment [Canon law]

BT: Canon law

    Capital punishment in literature

Boolean Searching

Boolean Searching uses the words AND, OR, and NOT to broaden, narrow, or exclude records when performing a search. AND, OR, and NOT are referred to as Boolean Operators.

    AND: combines concepts and narrows the search
    OR: combines synonyms or similar terminology and broadens the search
    NOT: excludes from the search