Updating Headings

For those hoping that this post has something to with LC itself updating their headings…sorry, it’s not.

This is about how I try to update the local headings in my catalog.

Maybe in the Future-Of-Libraries-Era, all headings in all local catalogs will cascadingly update when the term is updated in LCs database. That day is not today. What that means is that as our records sit and sit and sit, statically unchanging, their headings can end up being painfully out of date, which has two big problems:

  1. They can be pretty offensive (though of course even newer ‘correct’ headings can be as well)
  2. They won’t co-locate with other resources of the same subject matter because they aren’t using the most up-to-date term.


World War, 1939-1945—Art and the war
UF World War, 1939-1945, in art [Former heading]

If people find the term “World War, 1939-1945, in art” and click on it to find other resources, they won’t find anything that has been produced since the heading has been changed, because they’ll all have the new heading.


Okay so that establishes why these are an issue, what am I doing about it?

First you have to find them!

There’s no “master list of every former heading” (that I know of) but here’s some technical ways to dig ’em up.

  • If you have the MADS of an LCSH, look for “<madsrdf:hasEarlierEstablishedForm>”
  • If you’re working from MARC21 or MARCXML, look for field 450 with a subfield w with a value of ‘nne’
  • Every heading list that comes out tells you if one has been changed, so that can be a good place to find the changed headings
  • Just guess and browse around!

It’s this last method that I’ve been using lately. I figured that terms for people would be changing often, and also wanted to ensure that my local catalog didn’t retain any particularly offensive terms.

The terms I started with were

  • Afro-Americans/Negroes
  • Gypsies

Which have been changed to

  • African-Americans
  • Romanies


I searched our local catalog for LC subjects containing ‘Afro-Americans’ and found 1,885 records. I downloaded them as MARCXML and opened them in oXygen. I knew that I had to be careful because a simple “find/replace” would be way way overkill, and end up corrupting the data. If ‘Afro-Americans’ were in a title, or any other transcription field, it shouldn’t be overwritten. If the term appeared in a 600/610/611/630, it may or may not need to be overwritten because the name of the person/organization/meeting/title may not have changed.

So I first gathered together any LC subject heading which contained the term ‘Afro-Americans’

datafield[@tag = ‘650’][@ind2 = ‘0’]/subfield[starts-with(.,’Afro-Americans’)]

I had to make sure that before I replaced all these, I wouldn’t screw up the new heading. If you look at the list in Class Web that used to begin ‘Afro-Americans’ you’ll notice that most of them can be swapped out for ‘African Americans’ but not all:

Afro-Americans in the press
USE African Americans—Press coverage

Afro-Americans in business
USE African American businesspeople

Afro-Americans as consumers
USE African American consumers

(just as examples) should not be programmatically changed by swapping just the terms, or the new heading won’t be correct!

There are also instances of ‘Afro-Americans’ as a subdivision that I wanted to change, and I had to check Class Web again for those to be sure that those hadn’t changed as well.

Overall, I managed to change a LOT of headings, but it took a lot more care and consideration than I had originally anticipated. It’s much more complex than “find/replace”. But I’m glad that my local catalog will have better co-location and more up-to-date headings.


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