Suggestions for clarifying the LCSH approval process

This is a guest post by friend of the blog, Violet Fox. It does not necessarily represent the views of Netanel Ganin or any of the institutions with which he is affiliated.


My work with the Cataloging Lab has been designed with the goal to get more library workers invested in the subject vocabulary and classification in use at their libraries, and to feel empowered to make changes in headings that are ineffective, offensive, or missing from the world’s largest library vocabulary. With the understanding that LC has an enormous task in keeping LCSH up-to-date, and inadequate staffing levels to take on its de facto job as the national library, it seems only natural for other library workers to be a part of making sure our vocabulary is responsive to user needs. But at the moment, there are some significant frustrations for people who want to get involved in the proposal process.

The PCC (Program for Cooperative Cataloging) SACO (Subject Authority Cooperative) program was designed so that institutions outside of the Library of Congress could submit proposals for additions and revisions to LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) and LCC (Library of Congress Classification). There are significant barriers to be a part of the SACO program: your institution must be large enough to have adequate staff to participate, as well as having in-house expertise to train new employees. The SACO Funnel program picks up some of these gaps, where catalogers can form cooperative groups called funnels to participate in SACO proposals. Funnels are organized by either subject area or geographic location, but many libraries exist outside the areas covered by funnels.

Those who are a part of SACO can use a convenient web form found within Classification Web to propose changes and additions to LCSH and LCC. Those who are not a part of SACO are not able to use this web form, they are relegated to using a difficult-to-find pdf form.

The current place to find the non-SACO submission form is at https://www.loc.gov/aba/cataloging/subject/weeklylists, which has the title of “Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) Approved Lists” (certainly not an intuitive title to find the document to propose a heading).

Once you find that form, it has the instruction to email your proposal to policy [at] loc.gov.

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But I recently found out that apparently that’s the wrong email address!

In November 2017 I submitted a proposal to policy [at] loc.gov, and it was reviewed and accepted. In early March 2018 I submitted proposals to the same email address, and never received a response. When I followed up on it in early May after not seeing it on the proposed headings lists, I was emailed by LC: “This second attempt at sending the subject proposal was correct in that you included the SACO email account.” (That is, saco [at] loc.gov.) That confusion led to an additional two months of waiting on a proposal, in addition to the regular 6-8 week waiting period for a proposal to be evaluated.

There are a few other problems with the current form. It’s much more difficult to use than the Classification Web proposal form. There are no drop-down menus, so typos and misunderstandings are more likely. I have had to fill out a proposal on a blank Word document several times now because my proposal had more cross-references than the pdf form had available fields to put them in. That can’t be easy for LC staff to read; it’s an added burden to require them to cut and paste from my proposal.

Although the cataloging section of the LC website has fairly recently been updated, it can still be difficult to locate information within the PCC sections, either via browsing or searching. If you resort to a search outside of the site, a Google search for “LCSH proposal form” results in the first result being a link to an entirely different form. This form has broken images and an update date at the bottom that says 2011. Many of the links on that form are broken, which leads me to think it’s not a valid way to submit proposals. I stumbled upon a pdf that said that this form was to be deactivated in 2011, but it’s still online.

I have a few suggestions for LC:

  • Let non-SACO participants use the Classification Web proposal web form. (Classification Web is a subscription product, so that solution excludes those who do not subscribe, but at least more libraries would be able to use the error-reducing web form.)
  • Even better, create a web form that’s not hosted within Classification Web that everyone can use to submit proposals.
  • At the very least, update the pdf form that is available to clarify the submission process (in particular, ensuring the correct email address is on the form and changing references from “non-PCC institutions” to “non-SACO institutions”).
  • Add information to the “FAQ on SACO Subject Heading Proposals” about how non-SACO participants can submit proposals.
  • Ensure that old forms and outdated information on the LC site are taken down, or are redirected to up-to-date information.

I appreciate the work that LC puts into ensuring that LCSH and LCC remain useful and consistent. I especially appreciate the extra transparency that LC has put into the proposal process within the past year, including this very informative breakdown of the process as well as the new SHM instruction sheet H 204, which explains how proposals are evaluated. I hope my suggestions will be taken in the spirit they are given, in the spirit of trying to help LC make LCSH and LCC the best they can be!

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This post is the opinion of Netanel Ganin and is in no way to be construed as an official communication from any section of any institution. 

As always — check out the full approved list, and be sure to read through the newest tentative list and to send feedback to LC! Your feedback matters, as PSD says:

“Each Tentative List includes an email address to which comments on the proposals may be submitted. PSD accepts comments from LC and SACO catalogers, other library and archive professionals, lawmakers, and members of the general public. The comment period lasts approximately one month, beginning with the publication of the Tentative List and continuing until the closing date indicated on the list.”

And now, onto the headings!


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