Subject Headings Manual – Part 1 – Introduction

The Subject Headings Manual, The SHM, The Big Beige Book, The Dense Detailed Document, The Ten-Ton Tome.

It has many names (and I made up most of those, I have no idea what color [if any] it came in) but maybe we aren’t using those names enough. As pointed out by Erin Leach in her post, while there are books critiquing the Library of Congress Subject Headings (hereafter, LCSH), and blog-posts upon #CritLib discussions upon novelty twitter accounts, about LCSH — there are comparatively few works about the Subject Headings Manual.

I get this. LCSH is easy to access, and quick to scan. It can be bizarre, funny, and blazingly insensitive. However, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, far from it — it can’t exist on its own. LCSH is just a list of words, sure it’s a long list, but it’s still just a list. There are occasional scope notes, never as often as we’d like, telling us how a certain term is to be applied, but LCSH doesn’t say anything itself about how to use the vocabulary.

Enter the Subject Headings Manual (hereafter SHM).

It contains memos…many memos.

Every wondered how to apply headings to literature? Better check the six memos covering literature.

There are memos on how to assign and construct headings in the general sense and in very specific senses, memos on specific languages in headings, memos on geographic headings in general and memos on specific regions/cities. There are memos for applying headings to certain groups/types of things and lists of available subdivisions for those groups. There are memos on specific subdivisions detailing their use. There’s a glossary and oh yes indeed — seven appendices.

Critiquing and criticizing LCSH is important, but it can’t be the whole picture. LCSH may be the ‘what’, but the SHM is the ‘how’ and ‘why’, and we’re going to start digging in.

Stay tuned.



As readers of this blog will attest, I don’t have a good track record for completing all my series’ that begin with “Part 1”. I’m trying to be less ambitious here and do not plan to actually write a post for every memo in the SHM.



2 thoughts on “Subject Headings Manual – Part 1 – Introduction

  1. They were actually the Green Books–four volumes of them, issued in loose-leaf form for updating in dark green binders.


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