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”,
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
- 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 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