Gross on Subject Headings… No, they aren’t “gross”

And another cataloging assignment

Gross, T. What have we got to lose? College & Research Libraries 66(3):212-230 (May 2005)

This was an article describing research on library catalog search results. This study asked, “What proportion of records retrieved by a keyword search has a keyword only in a subject heading field and thus would not be retrieved if there were no subject headings?”

The research behind this article supports what I have been thinking all along, subject headings are important.  One third of the retrievals from searches were found only in the subject headings, so if subject headings had been left out, those resources would not have been located. In some cases 100% of the hits would have been left off without subject headings. The authors left out the foreign language searches because as a group they were outliers, but the very fact that those would have skewed the results so dramatically in favor of subject headings adds to the necessity of including subject headings.

This research did not include relevance of results, but other research has shown that keyword searching produces more un-relevant hits than subject heading searching.

Clearly subject headings need to continue to be used in cataloging to improve findability of our resources. While keyword searching is here to stay, the subject headings need to be part of the keyword search. Additionally, education of the user remains important. It seems that most of the problems associated with research revolve around users not understanding how to search the system.

Gross, T. What have we got to lose? College & Research Libraries 66(3):212-230 (May 2005)


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