FAST for Cataloging and Discovery: e-Forum Summary

Faceted Application of Subject Terminology (FAST) was designed as a lightweight derivative of Library of Congress Subject Headings that would be easy to learn and work well with faceted discovery systems. It has recently drawn renewed interest following OCLC’s announcement that it would add FAST headings globally to WorldCat. This e-forum looked at possible uses of FAST and how libraries may go about implementing it.

This e-forum is archived at We encourage readers to visit the e-forum archive, as the original messages provide a good deal of detail and nuance that is difficult to convey in a summary.

FAST Basics

Many e-forum participants were new to FAST and had questions about how it works, how it relates to LCSH, and how it is coded in MARC records. OCLC’s FAST project team members were on hand to answer questions. Detailed information is available via the FAST project page and other resources listed at the end of this summary, but here are a few key points:

FAST is a set of vocabularies based on LCSH that may be applied separately. They cover persons, corporate bodies, topics, events, titles, genre/form, places, and period. Each of these categories (or facets) is assigned to its own field instead of being assembled into a string as in LCSH. But within a facet, subfield combinations may be preserved, e.g. “Children--Education” or “Illinois—Urbana.”

All headings are established and have a corresponding authority (example:

There are far fewer rules than in LCSH about how the headings should be applied.

The fields used are generally the same as those familiar from MARC LCSH cataloging, i.e. 600, 610, 630, 650, 651. However, period goes in 648 and events go in 611.

In MARC, FAST terms are coded as follows. Note the FAST identifier in $0.

650  7 Online chat groups $2 fast $0 (OCoLC)fst01045940

There is currently no effective way to search for FAST records in WorldCat, but here are examples: #822971511, #761383798, #773921383, #801051864, #794604067, #775543354.

The following FAST interfaces are available:

FAST Adopters and Collections

Most of the participants who reported their experiences on the e-forum were from academic libraries describing their digital collections, including ETDs, institutional repositories, image and archival collections, a graphic history database, and digitized maps. Other FAST users who participated included a small publisher using FAST to enhance their book catalog, and a faculty librarian who uses FAST to introduce cataloging students to LCSH.

Several participants use FAST in conjunction with keywords or more specialized thesauri.

We saw relatively little interest in using FAST for traditional MARC cataloging, although the Newberry Library is planning a printed ephemera cataloging project using FAST, and Cornell University will be running a pilot next year for its minimal-level cataloging.

Reasons for Adopting FAST

A widely cited reason for adopting FAST was that it is a comprehensive controlled vocabulary that people without prior cataloging knowledge can apply effectively with relatively little training or experience. This was an important consideration given the staffing available for these projects. As one participant put it, “we wanted something that even the most naive of us could consistently match to what the others were doing.”

One institution, Columbia University, is considering FAST for its institutional repository because the ProQuest headings currently in use are no longer granular enough as the collection grows.

Participants also cited a lack of functionality in their content management systems for maintaining LCSH. Several people mentioned interoperability across collections (including non-MARC systems) as another reason for adopting FAST.

The potential of FAST for use as linked data was also mentioned as a reason for its adoption, although no current implementations were discussed.

Cataloging with FAST

Existing FAST users generally felt that a range of staff, from students to experienced catalogers, were able to learn to apply it efficiently. One user cautioned that “finding the terms takes practice and time” and catalogers using both would need to “remember which rules to use when.” Nevertheless, the same user said that “most people were [initially] skeptical about FAST, but most are pretty positive about it now.” Eric Childress mentioned the option of using the FAST facets selectively and one user did indeed report restricting their use of FAST to the Event and Geographic facets. The relationship of FAST to LC classification received discussion as well.

A couple of comments suggested that the FAST search interface is not entirely intuitive. A manual was available but is now out of date and has been withdrawn. OCLC said they would be receptive to input on a new version of the manual.

Automated LCSH to FAST Conversion

For libraries wanting to add FAST headings globally to their own catalogs, OCLC does have tools available, but they have limitations. Libraries wishing to convert existing data may wish to discuss this with the OCLC FAST team. A possible role for third party vendors in such conversions was mentioned; bib notification would be another route.

OCLC has also considered the possibility of converting keyword tags to FAST. One forum participant raised the possibility of converting chronological terms from a non-LC vocabulary to FAST.

FAST for Discovery

Several people mentioned an interest in how FAST would apply to discovery but it was not generally given as the primary impetus for adopting FAST. This may partly be a reflection of the limitations of existing discovery systems in presenting FAST facets. Nobody reported FAST facets having been implemented in any current full-scale library catalog; the possibility has been discussed at OCLC for WorldCat but there are no current plans to introduce this feature. However, there appears to be serious interest in some quarters in introducing FAST facets if (as now seems feasible) records in the ILS can be globally populated with FAST headings.

Charley Pennell and Eric Childress had an extended discussion of the relative merits of populating records with FAST headings and manipulating LCSH for use in discovery. A few people mentioned FAST’s consistent treatment of geographical names as an advantage, although it was pointed out that this information could also be extracted from 781 authority fields. FAST’s ability to isolate the topical aspect of an LCSH string across subfields (e.g. “Internet--Economic aspects”) was cited as an advantage in navigating large result sets via facets.

Vocabulary Development and Maintenance

Adam Schiff asked about how, and how soon, changes in LCSH authorities were propagated to FAST authorities and to bib records. OCLC staff explained that there is a monthly process to convert new LCSH terms and establish equivalents in FAST. Changes to LCSH terms are also reflected in FAST, although sometimes with manual review. Name and geographical headings take longer to review than others. Bib headings in WorldCat are periodically updated to reflect changes in the FAST authority.

Currently new terms cannot be added directly to FAST. This can cause problems, particularly with names. The only way to establish a FAST name heading is to first authorize it in NACO. OCLC is investigating ways to allow local extensions to FAST to address this problem.

Karen Anderson of Backstage Library Works said that her firm offers matching against FAST subjects as one of its services.

Next Steps

The FAST project team will consider creating a dedicated forum for ongoing discussion by FAST users. Meanwhile they encourage people to contact them directly ( They also encourage users to contact their vendors if they are interested in FAST-related services or functionality. OCLC offered to facilitate such discussions. The CaMMS Faceted Subject Access Interest Group will meet at ALA Midwinter on Saturday, January 25, 2014, 4:30–5:30 p.m. in Pennsylvania Convention Center 102B.

Resources Shared at this e-Forum


FAST project page:

OCLC announcement about adding FAST to WorldCat:

Cornell FAST introduction:

Cornell FAST cheat sheet:

FAST authority downloads:


Chan, Lois Mai and Edward T. O'Neill. FAST: Faceted Application of Subject Terminology: Principles and Applications. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited, 2010).

Mixter, Jeffrey and Eric Childress. FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology) Users Summary and Case Studies. (Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research, 2013)

Montalvo Montalvo, Marilyn. ¨LCSH, FAST y Delicious: Vocabularies Normalizados y Nuevas Formas de Catalogación Temática.¨ [en línea]. Anales de Documentación 14.1 (2011).

Montalvo Montalvo, Marilyn. “Vocabularios Controlados y FAST: la Asignación de Materias en el Siglo XXI.¨ III Encuentro de Catalogadores y Metadatos. (México: UNAM, 2009), 41–64.

Catalogs with FAST Records

UNLV Digital Collections:

UNLV Repository:

UNLV Dissertations:

Lunar and Planetary Institute Catalog:

University of Iowa Graphic History Database:


OCLC-CAT discussion list:

Faceted Subject Access Interest Group:

—submitted by and e-forum moderated by Jennifer D. Miller ( and Chew Chiat Naun ( This e-Forum was held December 11–12, 2013.