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South Asian Collection: Asian Collections at the Library of Congress

Romanization & Search Strategies

Searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog for materials published in South Asian languages can be tricky if one is not familiar with romanization (i.e., the conversion of words in scripts like Devanagari and Perso-Arabic to the roman alphabet).

ALA-LC Romanization Tables

The first resource to consult is the American Library Association-Library of Congress (ALA-LC) Romanization Tables, which includes individual tables for the following languages:

It is important to note that there are differences between the technical and conventional styles of romanization of South Asian languages. The technical form follows the guidelines set in the ALA-LC Romanization Tables and employs diacritic marks, whereas conventional romanization renders South Asian words into the roman script in different ways without diacritics (e.g., using “aa” instead of "ā").

In most cases, searching the Library’s online catalog with the technical romanization of a subject or person’s name will yield more results for publications in South Asian languages. For example, the same Tamil name can be rendered into English either as Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar (conventional romanization) or Pammal Campanta Mutaliyār (technical romanization), but the second option produces many more results.

The Yale University Library has compiled a list of common errors External in the romanization of South Asian writing systems. Although the examples come from the languages using the Devanagari script, some apply to other scripts, too.

Subject Headings

Image of catalog record showing subject headings

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LC Subjects) are words and phrases—called headings—that are used to indicate the topics of library resources. These headings are used by many libraries throughout the world, including most academic and research libraries in the United States, as well as by public and school libraries.

The use of subject headings brings consistency to library collections by categorizing topics into logical arrangements, and by controlling synonyms, variant spellings, and homographs. By using only one word or phrase for each topic, librarians can make sure that all of the resources on a topic will be grouped together, thereby allowing users to find them easily.

When browsing the online catalog, remember that LC Subjects can be very useful for finding more items on a particular topic. For example, doing a quick search in the catalog for “Abul Kalam Azad” will retrieve a catalog record as shown in the screenshot on the right. Note the linked subject headings in the record. If you select either of those links, you will get search results for all of the other materials in the Library of Congress Online Catalog that have been assigned those headings.

LC Subject Browses