Cataloging 101: Column 4 What’s it All About

January/February 2008

 Sandra Q. Williams

Cataloging 101 is a series of columns that includes a discussion about the importance of rules and standards in today's world of automated catalogs in school library media centers. Information on descriptive cataloging, AACR2, the MARC format, subject headings, classification numbers, and ways to find cataloging information in the items themselves and on the Internet is included. The series expands upon cataloging issues begun with the C.I.P articles by McCroskey and Turvey published in KQ in 2003-2004. The goal is to provide library media specialists with new tools, knowledge and the confidence needed to do copy and original cataloging in a timely manner.

Subject cataloging is the work involved in assigning subject headings to materials in the collection. Classification is the process used to determine the class or classification numbers for those items. These separate-but-related tasks entail the use of resources developed for school media centers. This column focuses on the use of two of these tools: the Sears List of Subject Headings (Miller 2004) and the Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index (Mitchell 2003). Web-based tools such as the Abridged WebDewey [] and Library of Congress's (LC) Cataloger's Desktop [] are very useful; however, the subscription expense for these resources must be weighed against the time saved by the media specialist using these technology-based tools.

Using the Sears List of Subject Headings

Determining the subject of a book, a video, or an Internet site that needs to be cataloged is a natural part of being a teacher-librarian. The challenge will be to assign a subject heading that is consistent with the headings used for media center resources covering the same type of material or information. In order to assure consistency in subject headings, the same subject-heading list should be used for all cataloging purposes. Many school library media centers use the Sears List and request this format for headings when ordering catalog records from vendors. One of biggest advantages of Sears over the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH 2004) is its size. Sears is a fairly inexpensive single-volume work, while LCSH is published in five very large volumes. Another advantage for adopting Sears is the fact that it uses simpler vocabulary and more common terminology than LCSH. The editors of Sears solicit feedback on how the list is being used, and invite suggestions on terminology for new topics that are beginning to be represented in media centers. Sears also includes a very useful manual at the front of the volume, “Principles of the Sears List of Subject Headings,” that gives complete instructions for using the list in a media center. The “Principles” should be consulted when media specialists have questions about how to apply subject headings to items in their collections.

Because the English language is constantly changing, media specialists should keep up with the changes by using the latest version of Sears. The publication in 2004 of the 18th edition of Sears List of Subject Headings coincided with the publication of the 14th Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index. The classification numbers that appear in the 18th edition of Sears are based on the 14th edition of the Abridged Dewey. More than 500 subject headings were added to the 18th edition of Sears List with many of them suggested by practicing media specialists. The 19th edition of the Sears List of Subject Headings, released in January 2008, adds an additional 400 new subject headings that meet the needs of changes in subject interests (e.g. Islam, science, and technology) and new formats, such as graphic novels. As terminology changes in each new edition of Sears, so should the records in media centers’ catalogs.

“Indians of North America” was the appropriate subject heading in Sears until the 17th edition was published in 2000. That year the heading was changed to “Native Americans.” Vendors now use this new heading for catalog records about this ethnic group. In order to maintain consistency in the catalog, it would be ideal if the media specialist could locate all the old records that included the subject heading “Indians of North America” and change them to “Native Americans” to reflect the new terminology. Media specialists who use programs such as “MARC Magician” [] are able to make this global change easily. The next column, number five in this series, will discuss several products or services that can be used to assist media specialists in their cataloging role. If media specialists do not have access to this type of cataloging aid, they should find out if the automated system being used in the media center allows global changes. Lacking one or the other of these options, it is probably safe to say that not many outdated subject headings will be changed. If a media center has an extensive collection of books on a subject heading whose terminology has recently changed, the media specialist may want to consider updating just this set of records. Perhaps parent volunteers could be enlisted to help with this type of project, or high school students doing service-learning work could be trained in this task. Another option would be to provide cross-references to link the old and new headings.

There is no hard-and-fast rule for how many subject headings should be made for each item, but most nonfiction materials should have at least one subject heading and perhaps as many as three or four. In an automated environment, the number of subject headings is not as much an issue as it was when media specialists had to concern themselves with extra typing and worry about filling up their card catalog drawers with an excess number of subject heading cards. The key here is to find a balance between the work involved in subject cataloging and providing effect subject access to each item in the collection.

Many subject-heading terms in Sears are represented by a single-word noun (Cats, Volcanoes, Playgrounds), but compound headings (Television and children) and phrases (Downsizing of organizations) are sometimes used to represent more complicated topics. Some of the new terms that appeared for the first time in the 18th edition of Sears are MP3 players, Digital cameras, and Fetal alcohol syndrome. Only the words printed in bold type in Sears are legitimate headings. The words in lightface type are not used, but serve to refer users of the resource to proper terminology.

To keep the Sears List of Subject Headings a manageable size, not every possible subject heading is printed. Several “key” headings are given for media specialists to use to formulate their own headings. For example, “Ohio” is the key heading for all states. The bold headings under Ohio show that some of the permissible subject headings are “Ohio — Census” and “Ohio — Fiction.” The media specialist can follow this pattern, then, to form correct headings such as “Minnesota — Census” and “Alabama — Fiction.” Key headings are also given for voluminous authors, ethnic groups, languages, literature, places, public figures, and wars. It is recommended that the media specialist make a checkmark next to the terms used in the Sears List, and write in new terms as they are added. If the “Principles” are followed, the media centerÕs users can research the collection with confidence, knowing that all resources on any particular subject have been identified by consistently assigned subject headings.

Finding Dewey Decimal Classification Numbers

Once a subject heading has been chosen, the media specialist will notice that the Sears List includes one or two possible Dewey Decimal classification numbers that correspond to each subject heading. Most school libraries would be well served to use the 1-volume Abridged Dewey or subscribe to the online Abridged WebDewey rather than adopting the 4-volume full edition of Dewey. School collections donÕt usually require as much detail as is contained in the unabridged version. The abridged edition is much easier to use, and the classification numbers will often be shorter. The option of receiving classification numbers from the Abridged Dewey may be chosen when completing the profile form for ordering cataloging records from vendors. The Abridged Dewey has a “relative” index, which brings together all aspects of a subject. The media specialist must check the numbers that are listed in the index against the classification schedule itself to verify which one of the possible numbers in the index is accurate for the item being cataloged. The local collection should also be examined to see if other resources with this subject heading use the same classification number.

Classification numbers, like subject headings, can change with the publication of new editions of the manual. For example, the classification number for word processing used to be 652.5, but this changed to 005.52 in the 14th edition of the Abridged Dewey. Students looking for the latest resources on this topic will be directed to 005.52. Once there, however, they will probably not find earlier volumes by browsing the shelves, since there will most likely be quite a few shelves separating these two numbers. If classification numbers have not been changed on the book items, users will need to do a subject search in the catalog to learn about the existence of materials on word processing in both 652.5 and 005.52.

The classification numbers that are added to the catalog from vendorsÕ records will be from the latest edition of the Abridged Dewey. This means that in order to provide consistency in call numbers, the media specialist should change call numbers on older materials so they will sit with the newer items. Unlike subject headings, where more than one topic can be assigned, only one classification number should be given to any one item, so it is very important that the best fit be found. However, if a work could logically be classed in more than one place, the media specialist will need to consider where it will be most useful to the users in the center. In the same vein, decisions need to be made concerning the classification of bibliographies, biographies, picture books, fiction, and Internet resources.

If the classification numbers that appear in the schedule do not quite fit the item being cataloged, the media specialist may have to “build” a number to use. One way to build numbers is to use one of the four auxiliary tables included in the Abridged Dewey. Table 1 is used together with the schedule when a resource takes a certain form, such as a dictionary or encyclopedia, or a journal. For example, the classification number for materials about dinosaurs is 567.9. If the media specialist is cataloging a dictionary or encyclopedia about dinosaurs, the numbers “03” from Table 1 would be added to (placed next to) the number from the schedule to represent this format. The complete classification number for a dictionary or encyclopedia about dinosaurs would then be 567.903.

If the material to be cataloged has to do with a certain geographic area, a number from Table 2 can be added to a base number from the schedule if instructions are given to do this. Additions from Table 3 are used only with some numbers from 810-890 in the schedule (literature) and Table 4 is used only with designated numbers from 420-490 (languages). The tables are complicated and it takes practice to become familiar with their use, but a careful reading of the introduction in the Abridged Dewey will explain how to use the tables correctly.

Often media specialists will have materials that have been purchased or otherwise acquired outside the regular system, and, therefore, cataloging records will not come from vendors. Media specialists should remember that they can always go to the website for the catalog of the Library of Congress [] to look up a similar resource. By typing in a possible subject heading for a work being processed, MARC records for materials in the LCÕs collection will be displayed and appropriate subject headings and Dewey Decimal classification numbers will be shown, along with their correct MARC tags. The next column will give more details about locating and using cataloging records in other databases.

Private catalogs that no one sees except the building’s students and teachers are becoming a thing of the past. Today, the catalogs of many school library media centers are Internet based, so students and families can access them at any time. The catalogs are also being used more often for resource sharing between schools. This is an excellent way to expand resources in an age of shrinking budgets. Maintaining consistency in subject headings and accuracy in classification numbers can be accomplished by using the latest editions of the standardized tools mentioned in this column. Library media specialists wear many hats each day as they work to make information available to students and teachers. The next column will discuss ways media specialists can use their time efficiently by locating and using cataloging records from other databases.

Works Cited

Abridged WebDewey. Dublin Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center. (Accessed 4 January 2008).

Library of Congress Catalog. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.

Library of Congress CatalogerÕs Desktop. Washington, D.C.: Cataloging Distribution Service.

Library of Congress, Cataloging Policy and Support Office, Library Services. 2004. Library of Congress Subject Headings, 27th ed., 5 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Cataloging Distribution Service).

Let's Do Dewey (Formerly MARC Magician), by Mitinet, Inc., Madison, Wisconsin. Information available at

Miller, Joseph, ed. 2004. Sears List of Subject Headings, 18th ed. New York: H. W. Wilson.

Miller, Joseph, and Bristow, Barbara A. 2007. Sears List of Subject Headings. 19th ed.. New York : H. W. Wilson Company.

Mitchell, Joan S. et al., eds. 2003. Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index: Devised by Melvil Dewey, 14th ed. Albany, N.Y.: Forest Press.

OCLC. WebDewey and Abridged WebDewey. Information about these products may be found at Accessed 12 February 2008.

Other Resources for help with subject headings and classification numbers Fountain, Joanna F. 2001. Subject Headings for School and Public Libraries: An LCSH/Sears Companion. 3rd ed. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. Intner, Sheila S., Joanna F. Fountain, and Jane E. Gilchrist. 2005. Cataloging Correctly for Kids: An Introduction to the Tools. (Fourth edition). Chicago: American Library Association. Mortimer, Mary. 2000. Learn Dewey Decimal Classification (Edition 21). Library Basics, no. 2. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, in cooperation with DocMatrix Pty Ltd, Canberra, Australia.

Knowledge Quest on the Web

There are many sites on the Internet that help media specialists work with Sears Subject Headings and Dewey Decimal Classification numbers.

Sears Subject Headings

Authority Records Ð Editing and Creating “see” and “see also” Cross-references
This pathfinder was written for media specialists in the Bellingham Public Schools, Bellingham, WA, and tells how to create and edit the cross-references in the Follett online catalog. It appears to be easy to understand and straight-forward to use. Accessed 5 January 2008.

“An overview of subject cataloging and the absence of a code,” by Joseph Miller

Sears List of Subject Headings: 19th edition
This is the homepage of the H.W. Wilson Company listing for the 19th ed. of Sears, published in 2007. The price is $145. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Subject Headings and Purchased Cataloging
This guide gives directions for checking and possibly changing purchased records in the catalog. If the subject headings are from LCSH, they might need to be changed. The media specialist also might want to add subdivisions to make the headings more useful to the local audience. The site ends with a self evaluation. Sponsored by Idaho State Library, this information is Course 6 of the Alternative Basic Library Education (ABLE) Program, which is “designed to help library staff members who have no formal education in library science to acquire the basic knowledge and skills needed to operate or work in a library. The program consists of workshops and online training.” Written by Catherine Poppino, M.L.S., and paid for in part with funds from the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Accessed 5 January 2008.

Tag of the Month

Sponsored by the Follett Software Company, this site gives information on how to use the 6XX tags for topical and other subject headings. Includes indicators, subfield codes, punctuation, and many examples. All accessed 5 January 2008.

Tag 600 Ð Subject Added Entry, Personal Name
Tag 610 Ð Subject Added Entry, Corporate Name
Tag 630 Ð Subject Added Entry, Uniform Title
Tag 650 Ð Subject Added Entry, Topical Term
Tag 651 Ð Subject Added Entry, Geographic Name
Tag 655 Ð Index Term, Genre/Form
Tag 658 Ð Index Term, Curriculum Objective
Tags 69X Ð Local Subject Access Fields

Dewey Decimal Classification System

Sites for Media Specialists

Abridged WebDewey
This site includes a link to “Using WebDewey: An OCLC Tutorial” to show the media specialist how to get the most out of a WebDewey subscription. The price for a single user for a year if the library is not an OCLC subscriber is $75.00. A site license for a district (10+ staff members) is $249.00 / year. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Dewey Decimal Classification System
Wikipedia Ð “The Free Encyclopedia” — has an entry on Dewey. The information appears to be accurate and includes many links to more information, including the breakdown of the classification numbers. It has recently been updated. Accessed 5 January 2008.

The Dewey Decimal Classification System
This lesson plan for grade school students was developed by Jean Halsey and is part of the SMART (Science and Mathematics with Application of Relevant Technology) website. The site is hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology. Besides presenting information, it includes ideas for activities, such as making up a Dewey Decimal rap song as part of a group activity, inventing a game using decimal jeopardy, or writing a biography about Melvil Dewey. It ends with a quiz and the answers. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Dewey Decimal Systems — Cataloging Collections
Sponsored by the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, this site presents a lesson plan to use with 6th Ð 8th graders on learning the principles of the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Materials are provided for teachers and students. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Grade 3 ¥ Nonfiction
This lesson plan on how nonfiction books are organized in the media center is written by the Eau Claire, WI, Area Schools and it includes performance standards, learning activities, resources needed, and how to evaluate the lesson. Accessed 5 January 2008.

How to Find Information in the Information Age
Jeanne Guthrie developed these library instruction lesson plans to help students in grades 4-8 become familiar with the Dewey Decimal system. She includes lessons in information literacy, language arts, social studies, and computer science. Included on a site copyright by Michael Lorenzen. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Introduction to the Dewey Classification System
This is Course 7 in the ABLE program, which is “designed to help library staff members who have no formal education in library science to acquire the basic knowledge and skills needed to operate or work in a library. The program consists of workshops and online training.” Sponsored by the Idaho State Library. The examples are based on the Abridged Dewey, 13th ed. The course takes approximately two hours to complete, but it appears to be very well done and worthwhile for a media specialist who needs a refresher. Written by Catherine Poppino, M.L.S., and paid for in part with funds from the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Accessed 5 January 2008.

Library of Congress CatalogerÕs Desktop
Access to the most widely used cataloging documentation resources, including the complete AACR2, in an integrated, online system. Take a look at the Quick Start Tutorial to have some of your questions answered, including how to order. The price ranges from $575 for a single user up to $750 for up to four concurrent users. (Prices may not be accurate). A one-month trial account for 1-4 users is free. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Library Skill Activities for Students
Links to activity pages to help students learn about the Dewey Decimal Classification System are provided here. Sponsored by the Grand Oaks Elementary Library in Clinton, Tennessee, the pages are easy to navigate and appear to be helpful to school library media specialists. Last updated July 2003. Accessed 5 January 2008.

OCLC Dewey Services
This site includes links to the printed and web-based full and abridged editions of Dewey, with information on how to purchase or subscribe to the resources. It also has a link to a free 37-page introduction to the Dewey Decimal Classification system. A multimedia tour is available for computers with a Flash player. The 14th ed. of the print Abridged Dewey is $99.00. Accessed 5 January 2008.

A Story About the Dewey Decimal Classification System
Sponsored by the Mt. Erie Elementary School in Anacortes, WA, this is the “Complete Library Skills Activities Program by Arden Druce, who cited it from School Library Journal, February 1961. Copyright R.R. Bowker Company/Cahners magazine Division.” The page includes a link to lesson ideas, which is a compilation of ideas from LM_NET. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Tag of the Month
Sponsored by the Follett Software Company, this site gives the MARC format details for the Dewey Decimal Classification number (082). Numbers from the Abridged Dewey have a “1” in the first indicator position. Accessed 5 January 2008.

¥ Sites for use with students

The Book Disaster, or Dewey “SWAT” Team to the Rescue
A Dewey Decimal WebQuest for fifth graders, this was designed by Sara Ferris of Wolf Swamp Road Elementary School in Longmeadow, MA. It includes tasks such as writing a chapter about the books in certain Dewey categories for two SWAT Team Organizational Experts and a SWAT Team Project Coordinator. It includes tips for evaluating the work. Looks like fun. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Can You Do the Dewey?
Sponsored by Middletown Thrall Public Library in Middletown, NY, this site includes a link to test studentsÕ knowledge of the Dewey system at three different levels, a link to find out more about Melvil Dewey, and one to learn more about the system. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Decimal de Dewey
This page from Wikipedia lists classification numbers in Spanish. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Dewey Browse
This is an extensive directory of websites useful for grades K-12 organized by the Dewey Decimal System. It uses a Google search engine for the website, and was named the School Library Journal Website of the Month in December 2001. It also has a “Great Web Sites” award from the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the ALA, among other awards. It was created by Gail Shea Grainger, Librarian at Chesterfield School, Chesterfield, N.H, and was updated in November 2005. Accessed 5 January 2008.

Dewey Challenge Game
This game gives students a chance to answer questions and earn a “Dewey Master Medal.” Five questions take students to the Junior Medal, and two more levels take them to the Dewey Master Pro. Accessed 5 January 2008.

“Do We” Really Know Dewey?
A fun site put together by students in 5th and 6th grades at Nettleton Intermediate Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The site is organized into different levels, so the further a student goes, the more difficult the questions become. It includes some fun pages for media specialists to print and use with students. This site is part of the ThinkQuest Library, which is a “free educational resource featuring 5,500+ websites created by students around the world as part of a competition.” Accessed 5 January 2008.

KidsÕ Websites
This index page organizes websites by the Dewey Decimal System. This is colorful and easy to use, and also has links to other sites organized this way and to information about the Dewey Decimal System. Sponsored by Casis Elementary School Library in Austin, TX; librarian and webmaster, Julia Anne Jay Campbell. Updated in February 2005. Accessed 5 January 2008.

KidsClick! — Web search for kids by librarians
This page was developed as a “web search for kids by librarians” and is sponsored by Ramapo Catskill Library System in Middletown, NY. The site is maintained by the Colorado State Library in Denver, CO. Children can click on any of the Dewey numbers given to find pertinent websites that fall within that category. ThereÕs also a keyword box for searching and the option of doing an alphabetical search. Accessed 5 January 2008.

LetÕs Do Dewey
Developed by Middle Tennessee State University, this site is appropriate to use with upper level or high school students. It presents information about Melvil Dewey and the organization of his classification system, and lets students click on links to learn more about a topic. 5 January 2008.

Melvil Dewey and the Dewey Decimal Classification System
This information is provided by the Homeschool Learning Network. The lessons are marked with grade levels from 3rd grade through 12th grade, and categorized as focusing on either history, language, or math. Links are also given for the Library of Congress classification system for older students. Accessed 5 Janary 2008.




Sandra Q. Williams is a professor in Learning Resources & Technology Services and the Center for Information Media at St. Cloud State University. She is the government documents librarian, has taught cataloging in the CIM graduate program for 15 years, and has a special interest in children's literature. She co-coordinates the annual Children's Literature Workshop at SCSU, which celebrated its 28th year in summer 2007.




This column article was edited by Tom Adamich, cataloger at Robert Morris University, (email or and by Carolyn Karis (email