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Library of Congress Subject Headings

Learn about: Library of Congress Subject Headings, what subject headings are, problems of subject headings, and see a sample LCSH entry.

Most university and large libraries in the United States use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). These subject headings, used by the Library of Congress since 1989, are published in five red books which can be found in at least three locations in the Rasmuson Library: on Level 2 near the ALASKA REF collection; at the Reference Desk on Level 4; and near the Periodicals Desk on Level 3. Use the red LCSH books to perform subject searches to save time and retrieve a more complete set of bibliographic citations.

A subject heading is a word or phrase, which describes or represents a concept or topic. Most subject headings are common, everyday words. For example, "dogs" is a subject heading used in our online catalog. People, places, and organizations may also be used as subject headings. If you want to read a book about Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, you search under Walker, Alice as a subject heading.

Problems occur when people use different words to describe a subject. If you are looking for a book on the dismissal of employees what words could be used? Dismissal, firing or termination would all be valid. To avoid confusion, make subject search more precise and group similar books together, libraries use standardized lists of words and phrases called controlled vocabulary. That is, only certain words may be used as subject headings.

Occasionally LC subject headings are not the same as commonly used terms. A few examples:

Your term(s) LCSH
Movies Motion Pictures
Black drama (American) American drama--Afro-American authors
Permafrost Frozen Ground

If you do a subject search in the catalog for books about "permafrost" you will not find any. Why? The authorized Library of Congress subject used in the catalog is not "permafrost" but "frozen ground." If you look up "permafrost" in the Library of Congress Subject Headings, it will say " USE Frozen ground."" USE is the term the Library of Congress uses to direct you from the incorrect subject heading to the correct heading.

USE Frozen ground

You should now use the correct subject heading "Frozen ground" for a subject search.

		Frozen ground   (May Subd Geog)
	[GB641 - GB648]
	UF  Frozen soil
	Soils, Frozen
	BT  Cold regions
	RT  Cryopedology
	NT  Aufeis
	Frost heaving
	Patterned ground
	Rock glaciers
	Sanitary engineering, Low temperature
	--Research  (May Subd Geog)
	UF   Frozen ground research

Key to Codes:

May Subd Geog or Not Subd Geog indicates whether or not the subject heading may be subdivided geographically. Subdivided subject headings may be topical, by form, chronological, or geographic.

UF = Used For. Do not use the headings that follow "UF". In this example, do not use "Frozen soil," "Permafrost," or "Soils, Frozen."

BT = Broader Term. A subject of broader scope which may include some or all aspects of "Frozen ground."

RT = Related Topic. Indicates other associated headings.

SA = See Also. Indicates other useful terms for searching the subject.

NT = Narrower Topic. Indicates more specific headings than the boldface subject heading.

-- (Dash). Indicates a subdivision of the main (boldface) subject heading. There will be more information in the catalog listed under this subdivision. This is useful for narrowing a topic.

Many names of places and people (i.e., proper nouns) are not listed in LCSH, however, they may be used as subject headings.

** For a more complete explanation see the "Introduction" in LCSH, volume 1.

Online access to LC Subject Headings.

Increasingly, new web-based library catalogs are beginning to accommodate finding authorized LC Subject Headings online. Be sure to look for these and other features when visiting any new catalog.

For example, you can use WorldCat to locate the appropriate Library of Congress Subject Heading online:

  1. WorldCat contains the combined catalog holdings of more than 21,000 libraries, worldwide. Access to WorldCat is provided via the Rasmuson Library(
  2. Once you have accessed WorldCat, click on the "Subjects" icon.
  3. Type in "keyword or concept" for your topic and click on "Find", or press the ENTER key.
  4. If the search did not retrieve any subject headings, try entering another term.
  5. Once you have retrieved an appropriate Subject Heading, search the subject by clicking on the link. Or click on "expand" examine the Broader, Narrower, and Related Headings, and Topical Sub-Headings.
This page was last modified on November 10, 2014