Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Constructing Library of Congress Subject Headings

Constructing Library of Congress Subject Headings

The Library of Congress online catalogue can be used to find appropriate subject headings.

  1. Go to Library of Congress Authorities webpage
  2. Click 'Search Authorities'
  3. Select the search type 'Subject Authority Headings'
  4. Type term in 'Search Text' box and click the 'Begin Search' button below.

Things to look out for:

Types of Library of Congress Subject Headings

LCSH can be used for subjects, genre, personal names, corporate names and place names. However, we use the NCA Rules for personal, corporate and place names. These guidelines concentrate on indexing subjects; they include information on indexing place names because many terms, which we would consider to be subjects, use a place name as their heading.

LCSH are composed by combining headings related to subject, place and/or date, in a specific order. The first term is the main heading, the terms which follow are subdivisions. Cataloguers should always check the Library of Congress Authority File to ensure that a term is acceptable. The Oxford University Library Services OLIS catalogue is also a good source of Library of Congress Subject Headings, although some of the headings are malformed. If a term is popular in OLIS this usually indicates that it is reliable. The LCSH vocabulary is vast and an institution may wish to establish a database of subject headings which have been used as access points in its own catalogues - this can help to promote consistency within the repository's own finding aids.

Place names

Place names used as headings:

Place names used as subdivisions are reversed:

e.g. Architecture--England--Oxfordshire


Subjects can be given as headings with no subdivisions (e.g. Architecture, Economics), but it is a good idea to expand them, if possible. This can be done with a combination of subject, place name and date subdivisions.

If the subject is of a particular language, the heading can take either of the following forms:

To determine which order to use, try searching LCSH for both.

In some cases, dates are given as part of the heading; this is where they qualify a particular event, for example in the case of the two world wars:

Place name/Subjects

As stated above, many terms, which we would consider to be subjects, take the form of place names. This is because the main heading of the term is a place name and the subject term takes the form of subdivision. The following are some examples of this:

Apart from the fact that the heading is a place name, the term is constructed in the same way as a subject term, with subdivisions of subject, place name (see above), and date. 'History' can be used as a heading, but if you wish to index material relating to the history of a particular place and period, you will need to use a place name as your main heading, as in:

The same rules are applied to many other subject terms. The best way to find what form the term takes is to search OLIS using the subject as the main heading, and, if this fails, try adding a place name to the beginning of the search term.


LCSH can also be used to index genre, for example:

Diaries - 19th century

Example of applying LCSH in an EAD description

use of LCSH in and EAD record


Adapted from Emily Tarrant's 'Guidelines for constructing LCSH' from the Bodleian Library's internal 'Rules for cataloguing in EAD in Western MSS'. Thanks to Emily for permission to use her work here.