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What good are subject headings?

Subject headings may seem useless in a catalog like AUBIE that lets you search by keywords. They do still serve a function, however.

Subject headings are good for limiting searches that might produce either too many hits or lots of hits that don't get what you want. Take, for instance, doing a keyword search looking for works about computers (k=computers). The keyword search returns over 6,000 records. Quite a few records to wade through, isn't it?

If, however, you do a subject search for computers (s=computers) you get not quite 2,000 records returned. Still a lot to go through, but substantially less than 6,000.

If you do this search, you will also notice that an index is returned, rather than a backwards chronological list like you get with keyword. The subject index has some lines with extensions (e.g. Computers -- Access Control) added to the search term. These extensions are called "subdivisions" and are used to group items which deal with one specific part of the main subject. These can also be helpful in narrowing your search.

Subject headings are assigned according to the headings found in the Library of Congress Subject Headings books. Each reference department has a copy of the latest edition and the reference staff can help you find the headings you need to search for. Remember, once you find a book on the subject you want, you can always look at its LUIS record to find what subject headings are used, and then use those subject headings to find more books about your subject.

Subject headings are not a perfect solution to finding books about a certain subject, but if you are not getting the results you want with a keyword search they are worth a try.