Access to Information: Filtering and Hegemonic Construction of Topic Headings Used in Indexes

What will my topic be listed under? Can I find sources using the terms racism, sexism, classism?

In the past 20 years, there has been increased criticism of the hegemonic construction of terms used to classify information. For example, the Library of Congress Subject Headings previously listed only one religion, Christianity, under the subject heading, GOD. As a result of active criticism, there are more access points to information, particularly to previously underrepresented peoples. However, it is important to be aware of the broad terms chosen to represent people and culture.

Search Strategies: Subject Headings & Keyword Searching

Topic heading selection is one of the first steps of filtering information that a researcher needs to be aware of. Whether the format is an electronic index or a print subject index, topic headings are chosen to represent the subject of an article, book or video (or other format). These search terms usually reflect ideological currents and indicate the way in which the information will be filtered in the index. The researcher's job is to become familiar with the choices used in each index.

 Generally speaking, manuscripts received from authors are usually accompanied by an abstract from the author, though sometimes the publisher will create an abstract. The search terms that you will need to become familiar with in searching are usually developed from the abstract or the authors provide terms using the "thesaurus terms" chosen by the publisher. Each index or database may use different terms.

There is an important distinction to be made between key words and subject headings: *key words - are words that may appear in the text or within the abstract and may reflect more current vocabulary; *subject headings or thesaurus terms - are terms that usually reflect the major focus of the text and are usually determined by the database producer.

It is important to remember that generally topic headings don't make their way into an index as subject headings unless they are generally accepted terms within a specific discipline. The process by which these terms are accepted varies widely, though the process often involves consulting scholars or research on key debates within a given field. In the case of books, the Library of Congress develops a list of subject terms call The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCHS). Databases that contain journal articles often include many more key word terms that reflect current vocabulary, whereas thesauraus terms or subject headings attempt to reflect historical documentation and/or scholarly consensus within a field or discipline.