Literary Warrant : first part of a joint critique in many parts

As mentioned in Netanel’s first post on the topic, literary warrant describes how the terminology used in subject headings is selected. Literary warrant is the justification behind the existence and phrasing of a subject heading or classification structure. Hulme described it as the principle by which one shows that “literature in book form has been shown to exist, and the test of the validity of a heading is the degree of accuracy with which it describes the area of subject matter.” (1911, p. 447)


In this series of blog posts, we will discuss the history, meaning, and limitations of literary warrant. We will also discuss alternative types of justification one could use to select certain terminology.


Below is a loose outline of what we plan to discuss. We are deliberately using the word discuss here, because the structure of these posts is intended to be presented as a discussion between us (Netanel and Jessica) as we work through these ideas. We hope that you will join us in this discussion, in the comments section or on twitter.


We hope to turn this series into a research article at the end of this project. We will not quote anyone participating via social media without asking permission first.



  1. Background about Literary warrant
    1. History
    2. Definitions
    3. began with TJs personal library and grew from there collecting the western canon so they were starting from a very western biased position
    4. Making choices / Things are not always clear. How do we decide if something is a war, a conflict, battle, or a massacre? How do we decide if something is a language or a dialect?
  2. Specific sources for citation
    1. Academic sources only
    2. Books only?
    3. What about community leaders/subject experts? Example: Ojibwa language based on Ethnologue rather than on the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary
  3. SACO
    1. Who gets to play?
    2. How does the process work?
  4. Impact of publishing and distribution decisions/Supply chains
    1. What gets published?
    2. What gets imported?
    3. Who gets hired to write, produce, and perform? (Ex: Hollywood white-washing)
  5. Cataloger bias
  6. Alternatives to literary warrant
    1. User warrant “justification for the representation of a concept in a [thesaurus] or for the selection of a preferred term because of frequent requests for information on the concept.” (NISO 1994)
    2. Cultural and epistemological warrant (Beghtol 1986)


What are we missing?


Works (to be) Cited

Beghtol, C. (1986). Semantic validity: Concepts of warrant in bibliographic classification systems. Library Resources & Technical Services, 30(2), 109-125.

Hulme, E. W. (1911). Principles of Book Classification. Library Association Record, 444-449, Dec. 1911.
NISO (1994). National Information Standards Organisation (1994). ANSI/NISO Z39.19-1993 Guidelines for the construction, format and management of monolingual thesauri. Bethesda, MD: NISO Press.

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