Keywordsandsubjectheadings

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  • 1. COMM 150<br />Introduction to Information Literacy<br />Bryant and Stratton College<br />Charlene D. Shotwell BA, MLS<br />Key Words versus Subject Headings: Don’t Be Tricked! <br />When searching online library catalogs (such as the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library or the NIOGA Library System) or online periodical index databases (such as those provided by EBSCO), it is important to know the difference between KEY WORDS and SUBJECT HEADINGS. Knowing the differences between the two will stop you from being misled or becoming frustrated.<br />In General:<br />
    • A key word search will bring up records where your key word or words appear anywhere at all within the record. A key word search will bring up records for items where your words appear in the title field, author field, description or abstract field, subject field, etc.
    • 2. A subject search however will only bring up records for items that have been assigned to a specific subject heading.
    Some tips to avoid being tricked or becoming frustrated:<br />Key word searching is more liberal and sometimes is the better choice for your first search attempt. This is because at times it may be difficult to “guess” at what a topic’s specific subject heading may be. <br />For example, you might enter the word paralegals in a library catalog’s subject field and then be met with the notice “no records found.” This might cause you to feel frustrated and confused. You might think “How could this library not have any books on the subject of paralegals?” <br />However, if you instead enter the word paralegals as a key word search you might find books with titles similar to A Guide for Paralegals or The Encyclopedia of Legal Careers. This might make you feel better, but it still might leave you with some questions. If you examine the records of one of the items closer, you might discover that even though the word paralegals appears in a book’s title or in the item’s description or abstract field, the actual subject heading to which the item is assigned is Legal Assistants or perhaps : Legal assistants--United States--Handbooks, manuals, etc..<br />Subject searching is often more specific and often tricky. Most public and academic library catalogs use the Library of Congress (LC) subject headings. Some subject headings are basic and straightforward, such as Diabetes. However, many LC subject headings also include subheadings to indicate specific aspects of a subject, for example Diabetes--Diet therapy. Some subject headings use archaic or possibly odd terminology, for example the Library of Congress subject heading for most cookbooks is Cookery. <br />Remember also that more similar subject headings may pertain to your topic and you may wish to browse those as well. <br />Some library catalogs are arranged to prompt users with a cross reference or “see also” prompt when a user enters a subject search for a topic that is known by another term. For example, some library catalogs may be programmed to list the prompt “Paralegals-- See Legal Assistants” when one enters Paralegals as a subject search. However, not all catalogs do this.<br />Sometimes you might want to try starting with a key word search and then finding an item for a record that looks useful to you. Then click on your chosen record and see what official subject headings are assigned to that record. Usually subject headings are “hot linked” so that you may simply click on them and launch a search for items assigned to that specific subject heading.<br />When using online periodical index databases such as those provided by EBSCO, similar rules apply. However, online periodical index databases may not use standardized or unified subject headings such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Often times subject headings may vary from database to database. For this, you need to be even more careful. Some online periodical index databases will allow you to search and browse subject headings, which at times the databases may instead refer to as “descriptors” or “indexes.” <br />Often online periodical indexes will also allow you to browse for lists of similar or related subject headings and combine those related fields to launch a search. For example, you might be able to create a search that uses combined subject headings or descriptors such as “Drug Addiction” or “Substance Abuse” or “Chemical Dependency.” <br />All in All:<br />Don’t let yourself get frustrated. Experiment with different methods of key word searching and subject searching. You may wish to THINK OF KEY WORD AND SUBJECT SEARCHING AS SOMEWHAT OF A WORD GAME. Be strategic but remember, there is no one right way or wrong way to search an online library catalog or an online periodical index database! Also, remember that the English language may have several different ways to refer to the same topic and sometimes related terms and synonyms may be worth examining also.<br />