Article Summary for Lecture #8- Knowlton

Knowlton, S.A. (2005). Three decades since prejudices and antipathies: A study of changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 40(2):123-45.

Steven A. Knowlton addresses in this study the much debated topic of subject headings in cataloging- specifically, in reference to critic Sanford Berman, whose work Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the LC Subject Heads Concerning People (P&A) paved the way to make subject headings much less biasedMany in the cataloging world feel that the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) used language in subject headings that was biased towards the Western culture – in other words it, “shows a prejudice in favor of particular points of view, and against others” (Knowlton 2005).  The LCSH basically assumed that the reader was a certain type of person, being white, male, and of the Western/Euro-American culture.   With all of this criticism coming in at the LCSH, it still showed success as being the main reference for implementing subject headings until Berman’s monograph was published in 1971.  Many strides have been taken to correct these biases, but critics still persist that many remain.  Knowlton dives into this controversy and addresses the concern, beginning with Berman’s changes.

Berman’s P&A received mixed reviews, but is now seen as a pioneer in the standardization of subject headings.  Before computers and more advanced technology seeped into the library world, the use of card catalogs was the standard.  Therefore, it would be a very time-consuming project to go through the entirety of a card catalog and change every subject heading.  This was a main point of contention for Berman’s proposed changes.  Although his changes aren’t accepted everywhere, he definitely made significant strides towards correcting the Western bias.

Knowlton then proceeds to explain the changes implemented to the LCSH system by providing 4 tables: the first are changes based on Berman’s suggestions, the second contains changes to the system, but perhaps shades the biases in a different way (still makes problems), the third lists suggested changes by Berman that were not adapted at all by the LCSH, and the fourth contains the “Do-it-Yourself” chapter, where subject headings are provided, but have no concrete solutions.

This article is probably my favorite to read so far.  Knowlton is concise and clear in his writing, and writes in a style that actually seems to be for someone wanting to learn about the controversy behind subject headings in the library and archival world.  In other words, Knowlton made sure to write it in a way that does not alienate the non-academic reader.  Also, having read the tables included in the article, I must say that I am surprised at how many subject headings were not changed after Berman’s suggestions.  For example, “church history” is a very broad category, and gives the impression that the only church history accounted for is the Christian church.  It would make sense to have Berman’s remedy of “Christianity-history” as the category.  It shows that, as many strides as we’ve made, and as much as we’ve learned, there is always a way to make our systems better for future generations of learners.


Article Summary for Lecture #7- Taylor

Taylor, A. (1995). On the subject of subjects. Journal of Academic Librarianship 21:484-91.


One of the classic library catalog models includes a categorization method of the subject of a certain work.  However, Arlene G. Taylor gives us the fact that even since the 1830’s, the usefulness of a subject search is a much debated topic in the library world.  It seems as though library users search mostly on “known items”, which is already a step beyond the subject search.  For example, a library user looking for a specific author or particular article will (in most cases) already know the subject of which they are searching.  Therefore, what use is having the subject search at all?  However, starting in the 1980’s researchers found that with the birth of the internet came a comeback of the subject search in full force.

Taylor dives into the subject access via the internet with a dichotomy of positives and negatives produced by the system.  She draws from other studies that show that even though an internet subject search gives the user several hundred options to peruse, the results are often overwhelming. Users will use the keyword search as a subject search, which creates more chaos more than order. Moreover, computer programmers are the ones that set up this system, not librarians.  This results with a presentation of ANY sources, not the BEST sources.  The response to this problem is being tackled by information specialists that work with and within the Library of Congress and the OCLC to create standards for subject searching to help the users find the best sources available to suit their needs.

Another problem Taylor mentions is the debate of keyword searching and vocabulary control, which is defined as all word or word forms that are mapped to the authorized word form for that concept (MacCall 2015).  The two are not interchangeable, and a keyword search is “chancy” when trying to look for items in a subject field.  Using a controlled vocabulary can better index search terms to make searching easier throughout the internet.  “On the other hand,” Taylor states, “there are several advantages to free text indexing: low cost, simple searching, searchability of full information content, no human indexing errors, and no delay in incorporating new terms” (486).  Each argument has its pros and cons.  Two other points of categorization that are currently being worked on are specific entry, which takes titles of works and puts them under the best subject for its purpose ahead of time, Library of Congress Subject Headings, and classification.

Taylor’s article is interesting in that it ties back to Thomas Mann’s point of the principle of least effort, which argues that it is the library’s responsibility to provide the best resources for its user.  Taylor narrows in on this topic and reveals that providing high standards for subject searches (via the Dublin Core and Text Encoding Initiative, that created the ties needed between encoded information and the physical resource for which the user is searching).  Taylor provides one simple point that speaks volumes for the much debated subject of subjects:  if the technology for providing better sources to the user does not exist, the only way to fix it is to grab hold of innovation and develop the technology.