About the Thesaurus Project  |   AALL Presentation outline

This project was presented at the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting (AALL), Tuesday, July 15th, at 10:15 a.m. It was part of a panel discussion titled "Access to American Indian Law Information: Options Today, Envisioning Tomorrow."

Introduction: This project involved the evaluation and revision of an existing subject heading list that had been used by the National Indian Law Library to catalog library materials. The library had used this subject heading list in addition to the Library of Congress Subject Headings. The goal of the project was to update the list and modify it into a thesaurus.


(i) Subject heading list The list we began to evaluate -- a 37-page document, with about 150 subject headings, 100 of which had 2-15 subdivisions. There were a few "see also" notes as well.

(ii) Thesaurus An enhanced subject heading list -- with linkages between broader and narrower terms, scope notes, usage notes, and some cataloging guidelines. Authority lists for case names, laws, tribal names and other information would also be included.

I. Presentation covers:

A. Background and context of the project
B. A summary of the process of developing the thesaurus
C. Examples of subject headings from the thesaurus
D. Information about where to find out more about the project and become involved in reviewing our work. [Go to Thesaurus Project Home].

II. Background and context of the project:

A. Catalogers at our library have historically used both the Library of Congress Subject Headings and an internal subject heading list to catalog library materials.
B. Different policies have been followed throughout the years with regard to whether the library's list and / or the Library of Congress (LC) Subject Headings would be used to catalog materials.
C. Within the past five years, the list had been compared with the indices of major Indian law textbooks, but the library staff wanted to evaluate and revise the list in several ways
D. We wanted to understand the list's

(i) Overlap and uniqueness with respect to the LCSH.
(ii) We wanted to add value to the list by developing it into a thesaurus.
(iii) We also wanted to incorporate the use of free-floating subdivisions to improve flexibility, and to consider how we might use certain groups of LC free-floating subdivisions with our own terms.
(iv) We wanted to explore and develop guidelines for using various terms and phrases to describe native peoples, their land, and their politically sovereign areas.
(v) Finally, we wanted to develop guidelines for creating new subject headings based on existing LC patterns.

E. Overall, we wanted to try to work within the LC system as much as possible. This reflects the notion that we envision ourselves as being part of a union catalog one day and sharing catalog records.

III. Context of National Indian Law Library:


A. Very focused in a niche area it includes mainly law-related documents having to do with federal Indian law and tribal law.
B. The library materials include very specific documents, such as pleadings and opinions for individual cases and articles.
C. The collection is not browse-able - moveable shelves are used to house materials with no subject matter arrangement.


D. Have varying levels of legal expertise / knowledge and include both the public and legal professionals.
E. About 90% of the library users are remote -- they use the library from their homes or offices.


F. Most catalog records include table of contents information, for enhanced keyword searching.
G. The online catalog does not require left-anchored searching - terms can be entered in any order in any search field (using Boolean logic).
H. The library does not use MARC format records to catalog. The library does follow certain cataloging standards.
I. The library is not part of a union catalog or contributing catalog records at this time.

IV. Project process

A. Goal development:

(i) The goals were affected by the cataloging experiences for the previous year using both the internal subject heading list and the Library of Congress Subject Headings.

B. Background research:

(i) Consulted books about constructing and evaluating subject headings, thesauri, and authority lists, as well as Indian law.

C. Evaluation:

(i) Questions asked of each term in the internal subject heading list:

(a) Was it found in the Library of Congress (LC) Subject Headings?
(b) If so, did we find the wording suitable for our library users?
(c) Also, did we want to add any additional subdivisions?
(d) If it wasn't in LC, was there a similar term in LC?

(ii) Comparison tools:

(a) The online authority file of subject headings from the Library of Congress, at http://authorities.loc.gov/,
(b) The Library of Congress Subject Headings volumes,
(c) Online library catalogs of various law libraries, including our own.
(d) No access to a keyword searching software catalog of LC terms. All comparisons had to be done using left-anchored searching in the Library of Congress Subject Headings volumes or the online authority file mentioned in (a).

D. Revision

(i) Removed some terms; changed others.
(ii) Began to develop the list into a thesaurus - adding scope notes; making sure each term related to a broader term, either from our thesaurus or from the Library of Congress Subject Headings; and relating terms to each other - through broader, narrower, and related codes.
(iii) Incorporated free-floating subdivisions.
(iv) Developed rules for working with LC free-floating subdivisions and certain LC terms.

E. Consultation with colleagues:

(i) Was conducted in order to minimize mistakes, gain additional insight, and test the logic of this work.
(ii) Consultants represented librarians working with similar materials and legal professionals working in the fields of federal Indian and tribal law.
(iii) Additional consultants are welcome.

F. The future:

(i) Continue testing the subject heading terms and thesaurus.
(ii) Begin authority file work.
(iii) Create a file of relevant LC terms.
(iv) Compile notes about changes to terms.
(v) Publish information about the process.
(vi) Consider participating in the SACO program -- "Subject Authority Component" of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging.
(vii) Complete a retrospective conversion of the library's catalog.
(viii) Explore becoming a part of a union catalog.

G. Examples of subject headings:

(i) Challenge: Adhering to patterns of term formation in use by the Library of Congress for creating new subject headings.

(LC) = Library of Congress term; (NILL) = National Indian Law Library term

Example 1:

Gambling on Indian reservations (LC)

Hunting on Indian reservations (NILL)
On or near...

Example 2:

Police services for the aged (LC)
Police services for Alaska native villages (NILL)

Example 3:

Water rights (LC)
Fishing rights (NILL)
Cultural rights (NILL)

(ii) Challenge: When an alternative term may be better for NILL library users:

Example 1:

Government liability (LC has)
Sovereign immunity (NILL prefers)

Example 2:

Off-reservation Indians (LC has)
Urban Indians (NILL will also use)

(iii) Challenge: How to incorporate the use of the phrase "Indian Country":

Example 1:

LC has:
Indian Country (U.S. law)
West (US)

NILL is exploring the use of:
Federal Indian Law
Indian Country (US) as a geographical designation, similar to LC's "West (US)"

(iv) Challenge: Where to find the official name of the tribe for use as a subject heading:

Federal Register?
Names on constitutions??

(v) Challenge: What terms should be used for native peoples of Alaska or Hawaii?

Alaska Natives
Native Hawaiians

VI. Conclusion:

A. Subject heading development is important for this library because it:

(i) Assists the librarians in helping library users more efficiently.

(ii) Improves catalog records.

(iii) Decreases a reliance on keyword data entry, though there are no plans to discontinue the policy of entering table of contents data into catalog records.

(iv) May be helpful with a possible future online database of tracked cases, for those cases mentioned at the library's Indian Law Bulletins.

(v) Improves staff knowledge of knowledge management.

Last updated: 02/02/2004 16:29

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