Code of Ethics Draft – Subject Analysis

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Subject analysis is one of the most value-added things a cataloger can do when describing a resource. It entails the conceptual analysis of the resource in order to apply subject terms to the description of the zine: special topics, geographic areas, time periods, or population groups that the resource is about. So when a user wants to find a zine about a given subject, application of subject headings by a cataloger helps them out. The power here is in collocation, bringing like things together for users to see all the zines about food, or bicycling, or bicycles made out of food, or food made out of bicycles.

As librarians, we make every effort to create access and use the most relevant and specific subject headings, summaries, and other notes. We acknowledge that we will sometimes make mistakes and use headings that offend / don’t resonate with zine authors. It’s important that we find ways to invite feedback and create avenues for authors and users to request revisions to a record.

Those with the time and/or institutional privilege to do so might also consider getting involved in efforts to revise established thesauri (i.e. if you swim in the Library of Congress Subject Headings pond, becoming a prolific, hard-assed SACO proposer).

Proceeding with subject analysis:

Subject terms can be controlled or uncontrolled. Controlled terms come from controlled vocabularies or subject thesauri like:

  • Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)
  • Library of Congress Genre/Form Thesaurus (LCGFT)
  • Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)
  • Anchor Archive Thesaurus

Uncontrolled terms might be terms used on the fly by the cataloger, or terms pulled from the resource itself.

See more thorough discussion of subject analysis for zines in Freedman, et al (2013)[1].

[1] Freedman, Jenna, Rhonda Kauffman, and Melissa Morrone. 2013. “Cutter and Paste: A DIY Guide for Catalogers Who Don’t Know About Zines and Zine Librarians Who Don’t Know About Cataloging.” In Informed Agitation: Library and Information Skills in Social Justice Movements and Beyond. Library Juice Press.

In assigning subject headings to zines, we acknowledge that there will be imperfect fits and that catalogers must balance collocation and discoverability of materials with using the language and terminology of zine authors. Sometimes this will be an “and, both” situation, but when more established headings are politically odious, it may be best to include only alternative thesauri.

Some considerations:

  1. If your zines sits within a larger collection, using some headings from the “standard” thesaurus adopted by your library or collection (e.g. Library of Congress Subject Headings, Sears) will make  your zines more discoverable. When zines turn up alongside books, movies, and other kinds of information in a catalog search, users will have greater access to alternative perspectives.
  2. When using a thesaurus, adhering to its documented rules for use creates better collocation, so try to use it “correctly.”
  3. Supplement more formal or established thesauri with others that provide more accurate language or greater granularity. Some examples of thesauri to look at include:
    1. Anchor Archive Thesaurus
    2. Art and Architecture Thesaurus
    3. ???
  4. Local headings that collocate common genres of zines can be very helpful for users looking to browse a catalog. Barnard Zine Library is a good example of genre headings in action. Some examples of headings they use include: Personal zines, Compilation zines, Political zines, Minicomics, DIY zines.

Enhancing Discoverability beyond Subjects

When no thesauri have the right terms to address a particular issue or community represented in a zine, uncontrolled terms will at least make a record more keyword searchable. Getting more significant keywords or phrases in a summary note will also achieve this and give users a better sense of the zine to boot.

Established thesauri will always lag far (or forever) behind in adopting the vernacular used by communities – a major drawback of relying only on controlled vocabulary. However, a controlled term has the benefit of linking a user to larger swaths of related resources than a keyword search, which is really just a search for a simple string of characters.