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Subject Approach to Information in Libraries

Subject Approach to Information in Libraries

Subject Approach to Information in Libraries

Most of the users approach information sources not with names, who might have been responsible for their creation, but with a question that requires an answer, or a topic for study. Users seek documents or information on a particular subject. In order to make provision for this common approach, it is necessary to arrange documents on the shelf and entries in catalogs in such a way that items on a specific subject can be retrieved. In other words, it may be said that subject approach is very important in the access to and exploitation of documents in a library. Before we actually discuss the methods developed by librarians and information workers to meet this requirement, let us consider the question "What is a subject?" while talking about a subject we normally refer to a given area of knowledge, or the contents of a document of a given scope. A subject may be defined by:

a. an area of interest, 

b. an area in which an individual researcher or professional works, 

c. an area in which an individual writes, and 

d. an area of knowledge being studied.

Let us consider a well known area such as Physics. To understand this subject, let us first ask a student studying this subject, as to what constitutes this subject. Also, let us find out the definition of physics from a few dictionaries and encyclopedias. We may come across different definitions and different boundaries for this subject area alone. We may also find that different users and separate pieces of literature hold different perspectives on a subject. The points of divergence in perspective can be categorized into two types:

a. different labels (names) that are used for a subject, and 

b. different concepts about scope and associations with other subjects that are evident. 

Essentially, these factors form the basis of problems in identifying a satisfactory subject approach and the need to have a vast array of tools to explain the subject approach to knowledge or information. It is possible and convenient to select a particular view point on the scope, associations and labels for subjects which coincides with the way in which subjects are handled in the literature. In libraries, most devices for the organisation of knowledge concern themselves primarily with organizing documents, based on literary warrant. This approach is known as pragmatic approach. Collection dependency of the resulting tool. There is retrieval devices, and that is to build schemes, which depend upon theoretical views about the nature and structure of knowledge. This theoretical approach is important in determining the nature of subject devices required for the organisation of knowledge. A subject device normally seeks to fulfill two functions:

a. to show what a library or information center has on a particular subject; and 

b. to show what a library or information center has on related subjects. 

Different devices for the organization of knowledge place different emphasis based on the relative importance of these two functions. However, the two functions are inter-dependent and neither can be excluded without impairing the effectiveness of the other.

Classification schemes, as well as alphabetical indexing systems, attempt to fulfill both the basic functions mentioned earlier. The distinction arises from different emphasis. Classification schemes specialize in showing a network of subjects and displaying relationships between subjects while alphabetical indexing systems specialize in establishing specific labels for subjects and providing direct access to individual subjects. Also, it may be stated here that author and title catalogs enable the user to locate documents of which the user knows either the name of the author or title of the documents, while subject catalog enables him to find out documents of his interest even without knowing any of these items of information.

The subject approach may totally be alphabetical or it might be classified supported by alphabetical indexes. 

In a classified system, the arrangement of library materials is done using a classification scheme. The classification scheme provides a library with a systematic arrangement of materials according to their subject content. The second and the most commonly used method is indexing the library materials through the use of a subject heading list or controlled vocabulary. This method provides access to the intellectual content of a library. Classification provides a logical approach to the arrangement of documentary materials, whereas subject cataloging provides an alphabetic approach to the concepts discussed in these materials. These two methods offer two alternative modes of access to the library collection.

This new post of Librarianship Studies & Information Technology Blog answers following questions:
  • What are the Subject Approach to Information in Libraries
  • How library users seek information on a particular subject?
  • How library materials are arranged on shelves and catalogs to be located by subject?
  • What is a subject?
  • What methods and tools catalogers use to show what a library or information center has on a particular subject?
  • What methods and tools catalogers use to show what a library or information center has on related subjects?
  • How classification schemes are used for subject approaches?
  • How subject headings are used for subject approaches?

Source: (Chapter 1) Information Access Through The Subject : An Annotated Bibliography / by Salman Haider. - Online : OpenThesis, 2015. (408 pages ; 23 cm.)


  • Last Updated: 2019-07-03
  • Written: 2015-10-16

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