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Section 9:


Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)

Unesco ThesaurusHumanities and Social Sciences Electronic Thesaurus (HASSET)

BIC Subject Categories

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Terminology: subject headings and thesauri

Over the years, a number of terms and classification schemes have been developed to identify concepts (e.g. 'Music', 'Evolution', 'Africa' or 'Mount Everest'). These have been used in a variety of finding aids (e.g. catalogues, indexes, and inventories), and a number of schemes are widely used outside the institution which originally created the scheme. In these cases there is usually constant or regular revision of the schemes.

They provide a way to consistently use the same term for a concept within the finding aid. Since it is best practice to use a recognised scheme that already exists, it is therefore important that collection level description databases contain terms taken from one of these schemes. The content scope of the collection database and its curatorial domain will both influence the choice of scheme. A library might choose Library of Congress Subject Headings and an art gallery the Art & Architecture Thesaurus.

Consistent terminology is required for concepts (subjects or topics), names and geographic names.

While searching a specific collections database is facilitated, problems occur when attempts are made to cross search databases which use different sets of terms.

Best practice is to:

  • Use a standard set of terms that is widely recognised within the scope of the specific collection level descriptions database.
  • E.g. MeSH for a database of medical collections
  • Consider additionally using another set of terms to support cross searching.
  • Follow a term with the scheme from which it is taken, with the scheme name given in brackets: e.g. Astronomy (lcsh).

Content by: Shirley Keane of UKOLN.
Page last revised on: 12-Aug-2003
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