School of Information Management & Systems. Spring 2000.
245  Information in Collections.   Buckland.

Assignment 6: Social aspects of naming. Due at March 17.
Naming and labelling do more than assign a neutral "objective" identification. Naming tends also to describe what is named. Naming puts into categories and "frames" what is named. So naming is a descriptive activity, often deliberately so and done to achieve an effect. Naming reflects the perspective adopted, consciously or unconsciously, by whoever does the naming, as is to be expected. For this reason examination of how things have been named can provide insight into the perspectives, attitudes, and values of those who do the naming.

Subject headings in library catalogs and in bibliographies are designed to be accurately and easily meaningful for the population to be served. They are assigned deliberately, carefully, purposefully and systematically, so they reflect the mentality of their time and origin. Subject headings also tend to be kept relatively stable for the sake of consistency and economy (since revision is difficult and expensive) and so they also tend to reflect the mentality of past decades, not always reflecting changes in social attitudes and in language.

A classic work on this topic is Sanford Berman's   Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the LC Subject Headings Concerning People. (1971 and an essentially unchanged 1993 edition). Two copies are on MAIN [Humanities] Graduate Reserve Z695.U36.B45 on two hour reserve and I will put my own copy in the Computer Lab. Another copy close by is in the CES section of the Ethnic Studies Library in Stephens Hall. Copies may well be found in other libraries. "LC" refers to the Library of Congress, whose enormous list of nearly 200,000 subject headings (plus some 200,000 cross-references) is used, largely unchanged, by most college and university libraries.

1. Spend at least 30 minutes with Berman's book, reading the "Introduction" and scanning the rest.
2. Pick one or more examples of subject headings that interest you.
3. Find a copy of the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), large fat red volumes kept near the online catalog terminals in campus libraries. (Ask staff if you don't see a copy.) There is a copy of the five volume 21st edition in the Government & Social Sciences room at the north end. But any edition 1990 or later will do.
4. Take the opportunity to read the "Introduction".
5. Look up your example(s) to see if they have been changed. If so, what to? changes have been made.
6. Look in the MELVYL catalog to see what subject headings have been used. EXPLAIN DATE and EXPLAIN SET DATE help one search different time periods of cataloging. SET DATE RECENT (= last 10 years) is a convenient way seeing what has changed since Berman's book. You generally need to get back before 1960 to find much contrast with the present, so, e.g. AND DATE 1950S I have placed a 1968 edition of the LCSH in the Computer Lab. Try BROWSE XSU [whatever] to find subject headings starting exactly as you specify. Use BROWSE SW [whatever] to find subject headings containing what you specify. Try searching for titles containing words that interest you (F TW [word]), when you find any use DISPLAY LONG (or D SU) to see what LC Subject Headings have been assigned. Although MELVYL CATALOG subject headings normally conform to LCSH, they contain numerous non-standard and obsolete subject headings. The MAGS database also uses LC Subject Headings, rather freely adapted.
D TI SU DP -- Displaying TItle, SUbject headings and Date of Publication -- is a convenient way of picking relating contemporary word usage (title) and LC Subject Headings for any given date. This assumes that the catalog record was made around the date of publication, which is not always the case.
5. Write a brief summary of your example(s), what you found, and any comments you want to make. (One or two pages single-spaced.)
6. Hand in your summary and be prepared to talk about it briefly in class.

To be useful, examples should relate to something socially sensitive where terminology has been changing.

Optional extra: Take a look at other aged indexes. The The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature   is good for this purpose because it uses subject headings resembling LCSH and, in the paper version, it is easy to see how the choice of subject headings has changed decade by decade since 1900. Available in MAIN Humanities & Area Studies Hum/Area AJ3 .R4 and in MOFFITT Reference AJ3 .R4