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“Rosie.” Norman Rockwell. Color lithograph after a painting. Saturday Evening Post, May 29, 1943, cover (AP2.S2). General Collections. LC-USZC4-5602. © 1943 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing Co., Indianapolis, IN. All rights reserved.

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If you search the Library's online catalog for the keywords “battered women,” you find more than one hundred entries and may be perfectly satisfied. But by not identifying the Library's correct subject headings, “Abused women,” “Abused wives,” and “Wife abuse,” you may miss the best materials for your topic. A search combining these three terms yields more than one thousand records.

The current headings can be found in the multivolume Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) (Washington: Library of Congress, annual; Z695.Z8 L524a), known familiarly as the “Red Books.” The Red Books also provide call number ranges that can be searched. The “Sample LCSH” given throughout this discussion of the General Collections and the examples listed below are the tiniest fraction of authoritative headings for women and women's issues. It cannot be reiterated strongly enough: Explore the Library of Congress subject headings.

The construction of Library of Congress subject headings is precise and complicated, with many rules on order and punctuation that need not be explained here. The next few paragraphs provide only the most basic guidelines on how subject headings for women's history are formed.

1. The heading “Women” can be followed by subdivisions, which can be geographical, topical, chronological, or by form. For the full list of the more than three thousand authorized subdivisions, see Free-floating Subdivisions: An Alphabetical Index (Washington: Library of Congress, annual; Z663.72.F74; in most reading rooms).

Examples of subdivisions are: United States, Nebraska, Folklore, History, 19th century, Bibliography, Biography, or Periodicals.

These can be strung together in a fixed order: Women—United States—Bibliography or Women—Massachusetts—History—Indexes.

Several subdivisions that are particularly useful for locating primary sources are: Sources, Diaries, Narratives, Correspondence, Interviews, Quotations, or Collections.

2. The heading “Women” can be followed by an occupation, as in Women poets; Women social reformers; or Women surgeons.

3. The phrase “Women in” can be followed by terms such as Women in literature; Women in missionary work; Women in television broadcasting; or Women in the professions.

4. In keeping with the Library's cataloging policy of applying the most specific terms appropriate to an item, many words can be added to the word “Women” to narrow a search; for instance: African American women; Hispanic American women; Korean American women; Aged women; Divorced women; Homeless women; Poor women; Rural women; Single women; Baptist women; Jewish women; or Women immigrants.

Each of these terms may have subdivisions: Homeless women—United States—Biography; Single women—Conduct of life; or Women immigrants—Employment—Texas.

5. To give one longer example: the subject heading “Women artists” is related to many narrower terms and cross references, among them: Women artists in literature; Lesbian artists; Indian women artists; Minority women artists; Women painters; and Women engravers.

Each of these narrower terms may in turn have subdivisions: Women artists—United States—Exhibitions—Periodicals; or African American women artists—Biography—History and criticism.

The permutations are many and are governed by firm rules.

New subject headings are created when catalogers feel there is a sufficient mass of material to need increased specificity, and not before there is a physical item in hand to catalog. Some women's terms are of surprisingly recent creation; for example, “Lesbianism” and “Motherhood” (and “Fatherhood”) are rarely found before the middle of the twentieth century. When searching for older materials, especially before 1975, be aware that current subject terms may not have been used. When a new term is created, it is not always added to the records of all previously cataloged titles. To use the online catalog effectively, you must also search those terms marked “Former heading” in the Library of Congress Subject Headings as well as by call numbers and keywords. Some noncurrent Library subject headings are given in this site's “Sample LCSH” because they appear in the online catalog. See the discussion of the Main Card Catalog for another way to overcome the difficulty of superseded subject headings.

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