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American Women: Resources from the General Collections

LC Subject Headings

If you search the Library of Congress Online Catalog for the phrase “battered women,” you find more than one hundred entries and may be perfectly satisfied. By not identifying the Library's correct subject headings, “Abused women,” “Abused wives,” and “Wife abuse,” you may miss the best materials for your topic. A search combining these three phrases yields more than one thousand records.

Current headings can be found in the multivolume Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) (Washington: Library of Congress, annual; Z695.Z8 L524a), known familiarly as the “Red Books.” The LCSH also provides call number ranges that can be searched. The “Sample LCSH” given throughout this discussion of the General Collections and the examples listed below are the tiniest fraction of authoritative headings for women and women's issues. It cannot be reiterated strongly enough: Explore the Library of Congress subject headings.

Additional ways to locate authoritative subject headings are available online from the Library of Congress.  The Library of Congress Authorities online catalog provides references to authorized headings and the Linked Data Service (ID.LOC.GOV) also provides searchable access to LCSH.

Constructing LC Subject Headings

The construction of Library of Congress subject headings is precise and complicated, with many rules on order and punctuation that need not be explained here. The next few paragraphs provide only the most basic guidelines on how subject headings for women's history are formed.

Subject Subdivisions

The heading Women can be followed by "subdivisions," which can be geographical, topical, chronological, or by form. For the full list of the more than three thousand authorized subdivisions, see:

Examples of subdivisions include: United States, Nebraska, Folklore, History, 19th century, Bibliography, Biography, and Periodicals.

These can be strung together in a fixed order: 

Women—United States—Bibliography
Women—Massachusetts—History—Indexes.

Several subdivisions are particularly useful for locating primary sources: Sources, Diaries, Narratives, Correspondence, Interviews, Quotations, and Collections.


Narrowing the Subject Heading

The heading “Women” can be narrowed by adding an occupation:

Women poets
Women social reformers
Women surgeons.

The phrase “Women in” can be followed by professions such as:

Women in literature
Women in missionary work
Women in television broadcasting
Women in the professions

In keeping with the Library's cataloging policy of applying the most specific terms appropriate to an item, many words can be added to the word “Women” to narrow a search; for instance: 

African American women
Hispanic American women
Korean American women
Aged women
Divorced women
Homeless women
Poor women
Rural women
Single women

Baptist women
Jewish women
Women immigrants

Each of these terms may have subdivisions:

Homeless women—United States—Biography
Single women—Conduct of life
Women immigrants—Employment—Texas

To give one longer example: the subject heading, Women artists, is related to many narrower terms and cross references, among them: 

Women artists in literature
Lesbian artists
Indian women artists
Minority women artists
Women painters
Women engravers

Each of these narrower terms may in turn have subdivisions:

Women artists—United States—Exhibitions—Periodicals
African American women artists—Biography—History and criticism

Rules and Strategies for Older Materials

The permutations of LCSH are many and are governed by firm rules.

New subject headings are created when catalogers feel there is a sufficient mass of material to need increased specificity, and not before there is a physical item in hand to catalog. Some women's terms are of surprisingly recent creation; for example, “Lesbianism” and “Motherhood” (and “Fatherhood”) are rarely found before the middle of the twentieth century. When searching for older materials, especially before 1975, be aware that current subject terms may not have been used. When a new term is created, it is not always added to the records of all previously cataloged titles.

To use the online catalog effectively, you must also search those terms marked “Former heading” in the Library of Congress Subject Headings as well as by classification and keywords. Some noncurrent Library subject headings are given in this site's “Sample LCSH” because they appear in the online catalog. See the discussion of the Main Card Catalog for another way to overcome the difficulty of superseded subject headings