School of Information Management & Systems.
290-1  Design of Library Services.   Buckland. Spring 1999.

Assignment 7: Social aspects of naming. Due March 19.
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 to the population served. They are assigned deliberately, carefully, 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.

The 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 Moffitt Reserve Z695.U36.B45    and one on Ethnic SDtudies Library Reserve Z695.B3   "LC" refers to the Library of Congress, whose enormous list of subject headings is used, largely unchanged, by most college and university libraries.

1. Spend 40 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), four large fat red volumes kept near the online catalog terminals in campus libraries. (Ask staff if you don't see a copy.) Look up your example(s) to see if they have been changed. If so, what to? changes have been made.
4. Look in the MELVYL catalogs to see what subject headings have been used. Use SET DB CAT for older usage. The "last TEN years" database (Use SET DB TEN) provides a convenient way seeing what has changed since Berman's book. The FInd command retrieves records; the BROwse command retrieves headings. (If this is unclear do EXPLAIN BROWSE.) 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 is useful: Displaying TItle, SUbject headings and Date of Publication.
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 or so.)
6. Hand in your summary and be prepared to talk about it briefly in class.

You can, if you wish, choose an example of your own not taken from Berman and/or look in some other source, e.g. The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, but do #1 anyway). To be useful, examples should relate to something socially sensitive where terminology has been changing.

LCSH has a complex structure of relationships between terms: USE [instead], USE FOR, BT BROADER TERM, NT NARROWER TERM, RT RELATED TERM. For details see introductory material at the beginning of Vol. 1. There are rules for composing complex headings.