End-User Understanding of Subject Headings in Library Catalogs

Karen M. Drabenstott, Schelle Simcox, Eileen G. Fenton


In this article, we report on the first large-scale study of end-user understanding of subject headings. Our objectives were to determine the extent to which children and adults understood subdivided subject headings and to suggest improvements for improving understanding of subject headings. The 1991 Library of Congress Subject Subdivisions Conference suggested standardizing the order of subject subdivisions for the purpose of simplifying subject cataloging, which served as the impetus for the study. We demonstrated that adults understood subject headings better than children; however, both adults and children assigned correct meanings to less than half of the subject headings they examined. Neither subject heading context nor subdivision order had an effect on understanding. Based on our findings, we challenge the library community to make major changes to the Library of Congress Subject Headings system that have the potential to increase end-user understanding of subject headings.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5860/lrts.43n3.140


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