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Finding Materials on a Topic:
Subject Searching

When should I use it?

Use subject searching when you know the Library of Congress Subject Headings and you want to do a more precise search than you can with Keyword searching.

To look for items by Subject searching, rather than by Keyword searching, you must use the appropriate Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH). Subject headings are a way to group items on the same topic together even though the authors of the materials may have used different terms. An example is death penalty and capital punishment. LCSH assigns all books the subject heading Capital Punishment, regardless of which term is used in the title.

It is important to use the proper LCSH term when entering a Subject search. Some common synonyms are cross-referenced when you do a Subject search from the Exact Search screen. For example, if you enter death penalty, the list of headings that will come up has a "See Also" link. When you click on it, it tells you to use capital punishment instead. Many terms you use, however, will not have cross-references. If you enter the wrong heading you will get no hits. If you don't know the heading, do a keyword search first and look at a record on your topic to see what Subject Heading is used.

Subject searches on the Exact Search screen result in an alphabetical list of Subject Headings. Once you click on a subject in the headings list, you will get a list of items with that subject heading.

Here is a good way to approach subject searching. Say you need to find information on childhood depression. Since you don't know the LC Subject Heading, you should start with a Keyword Search.

Screen capture of subject search for childhood depression

You retrieve a list of titles with your search words. Do any of the titles look relevant? Click on the title of one that looks related to your topic so that you can view the complete GIL record.

Now, look at the subject heading (depression in children). If you click on that subject heading depression in children you will find other books on that topic. By selecting the LCSH, you get more focused search results.

Screen capture of results for subject search for childhood depression

WANT MORE on Library of Congress Classification?
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