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
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
"LC" refers to the Library
of Congress, whose enormous list of subject headings is used,
largely unchanged, by most college and
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
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
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
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.