Helping you find "Mary, Help of Christians"

Say you and your partner in history class are writing a paper about mining for gold in the 19th century. You go to the catalog, click on “Subjects” and type in “gold mines.” But what if your partner types in “gold rush”? Who will find the right books? Because of the controlled vocabulary created by the Library of Congress to uniformly describe library resources, you both will. The Library of Congress creates electronic “authority” records that collect all the likely wordings you might use, chooses one to be preferred, and voilà: Whatever you type in leads you to the same heading: Gold mines and mining.

Most academic libraries use this system of descriptors, so regardless of the catalog being searched, this uniformity helps researchers locate materials quickly and efficiently. Since every cataloger in the English-speaking world uses the same headings for each book they come across on a topic, it is possible to collate thousands of books on any subject. One example of such a catalog is

At the University of Dayton Libraries we recently came across some works about Mary, Help of Christians -- but there was no subject heading for this particular title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. With the help of the Marian Library, cataloging librarians submitted a proposal to SACO, the Subject Authority Cooperative that controls and approves new headings. Proposals require a lot of research, and we went through numerous sources to find every variation we could. We included cross references such as Our Lady, Help of Christians; Ayuda de los cristianos; Maria Ausiliatrice; Santa Maria Auxilium Christianorum; and eight others.

Happily, our new subject heading was approved and can now be used by libraries worldwide! Next time you are using the catalog, take a look.

The cataloging unit of the University Libraries has successfully proposed four other headings over the past couple of years, mostly created for thesis and dissertation topics written by UD students: “Multiple Signal Classification,” “through thin film ablation,” “color filter arrays,” and “memristors.” Two other subject headings are currently awaiting approval: “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” and “tuned mass dampers.” These two subjects are not for the same book, by the way.

-Joan Milligan, Catalog and Metadata Specialist

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