Dividing Palestine

As always this is no substitute for reading memo H 0980 in full.


May Subd Geog

Three little words that appear on numerous headings in LCSH — they indicate that if the resource requires it, you may add geographic subdivisions to that heading.

For the most part, that’s fairly easy to do: you look up the form of the name of the country, region, city, etc. — toss it into a $z and call it a day. (I’ll probably end up doing a post on H 830-H 870 for the finer points of that process, but this post isn’t about the details.)

But in my work, I catalog many resources which need to be geographically subdivided by Israel, Palestine, or various cities/regions contained therein. Suddenly the phrase ‘May Subd Geog’ takes on a whole new meaning.

Is there a part of the world whose geographic subdivisions are more fraught, are more contentious, have cost more lives than this one? Maybe, I’m no historian — but it must be high up on the list. Yet we have to do it, and its impractical to add notes to every record explaining the history of the region, the governments in control, and their geopolitical statuses.

So the H 980 memo provides detailed instructions to us, the catalogers, on which terms to use for which regions in geographic headings. Note that the general public has almost certainly not read that memo, and all too often it seems catalogers haven’t read that memo because I encounter (and correct) improper subdivisions all the time.

The reason I’m jumping ahead in fact is because I found a few errors recently and received some support on twitter for doing so.

I don’t suggest that this memo is ‘correct’, or endorse all of its contents. I shall try to relate the decisions it contains, and add some commentary. But first — the rules themselves:

Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and West Bank — are assigned without interposing a larger geographic entity.

Any topic which may be geographically subdivided, (if applicable to the resource of course), may have one of these headings placed directly after it.

650 #0 $a Law $z Gaza Strip.
650 #0 $a Land settlement $z Golan Heights.
650 #0 $a City planning $z Jerusalem.
650 #0 $a Public health $z West Bank.

This is important because of its implications. As a general rule, geographic subdivision always begins at the country level then may proceed to a smaller region/city level. Any exceptions to this rule are very specific and laid out clearly. To my reading, this exception has been made as one those ‘no one’s happy’ compromises.

Israel considers Jerusalem as its undivided capital city. The State of Palestine considers East Jerusalem as its capital. (And this was also recognized in 2012 by 138 member countries of the UN). Yet Jerusalem, in the NAF, and as instructed here — does not ‘belong’ to any country. We divide directly to it as a subdivision, and it stands unqualified in a 651.


651 #0 $a Jerusalem $v Aerial views


651 #0 $a Jerusalem (Israel) $v Aerial views


651 #0 $a Jerusalem (Palestine) $v Aerial views


I have no insight into the history of these memos or decisions, if one of you brilliant readers knows of documentation on the editorial meetings that must’ve taken place prior to the writing/codifying of these memos — I’d be indebted to you and go read them!

So instead I’m left with idle speculation and careful assumptions. I can’t say that LC was trying to avoid taking a position on the geo-political status of Jerusalem or the other regions, but it sure seems that way. Though as the wise Rush teaches us —

“If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice”

Cataloging isn’t neutral, and we are inevitably taking positions with our cataloging. Saying that Jerusalem doesn’t have a particular and unique country-of-belonging is a political statement.

The same applies to the Golan Heights with respect to Syria and Israel, and it’s treated the same as Jerusalem in LCSH — it belongs to no specific country.

What’s interesting (to me at least) about the Gaza Strip and the West Bank’s treatment, is that by near universal agreement, these are part of the State of Palestine. Even Israel does not consider them part of Israel, and has (more or less) recognized their right to self-govern. So why are they not divided through by $z Palestine? This brings us to the second big ruling of the memo:

For LCSH purposes, Palestine means the entirety of the region past and present.

This is where things get tricky. Increasingly in international discourse, ‘Palestine’ as a term is used to mean the State of Palestine. Yet, LCSH uses it to mean all of Israel + State of Palestine as both a historical region and a modern day geographic region. I don’t dispute that its useful to have a term to encompass the entire region, particularly because there’s so much of history that doesn’t divide it into those two specific modern nations. But because of the term they chose for that, and its easy confluence with the current country — it gets misapplied all the time.

So repeating for those in the back:

  • When your resource is about the post-1948 State of Palestine divide geographically by Jerusalem, West Bank,  and/or Gaza Strip.
  • When your resource is about the entirety of the region, past or present — divide by Palestine.
  • When your resource is about the post-1948 State of Israel, divide geographically by Jerusalem and/or Israel.

The final big rule from the memo:

Palestinian National Authority is a governmental entity coded 151

We are to assign it to works about the government of the State of Palestine and any headings which are appropriate for use under the name of a governmental entity may be used under it. Do not use it to indicate any specific geographic region.


I may write more about Palestine/Israel, goddess knows I’ve already written much — particularly with regards to its classification and appearance in other places in other LCSH headings, but this covers the H 980 memo.

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