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Locate subject headings for your topic

What are Subject Headings?

Subject headings are a set of terms or phrases (known as controlled vocabulary) that classify materials.  Essentially they identify and pull together under a common umbrella information about a given subject.  Most online catalogs and databases use some form of subject headings, though they may also be called descriptors or keywords.

The Library of Congress (LC) Subject Headings (LCSH) are used to identify subjects for items in the UIUC Online Library Catalog. The UIUC Online Library Catalog also uses the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) for medical topics. They can be used as described below for LCSH.

How to Use LC Subject Headings (LCSH)

Strategy 1 - Use the LCSH print index to find subject headings for your topic:

  1. Locate the  Library of Congress Subject Headings in the reference area collection.  Call number: Q 025.36 U5811S 
  2. Subject terms are listed in alphabetical order.
  3. Valid subject headings will be listed in bold type.
    Non-valid subject headings will include a USE reference directing you to the correct subject term
  4. The use of dashes -- in a subject heading list designates further subdivisions that will make a subject heading more specific.

Below is a sample LCSH entry:


BT - Broader Topic - Use to expand your search using a broader topic.

NT - Narrower Topics - Use to focus your search using a narrower topic.

RT - Related Topic - Alternitive terminology for your topic.

UF - This is the appropriate subject heading is use for these words. DO NOT search by words listed as UF.

USE - Identifies the correct heading to use for your topic.



Strategy 2 - Use the UIUC Online Library Catalog to find subject headings for your topic :

  1. Enter the  UIUC Online Library Catalog.
  2. Select the Classic Catalog: Quick Search option.
  3. Enter your topic into the Search For box and click search.
  4. Select Browse Subject from the Search By box.
  5. Click Search. An alphabetical list of subject headings closest to your search term will be returned.
  6. Click on any subject heading to view items that have been assigned that subject heading.
    • Note See Also boxes to the left of subject headings. This box will direct you to similar subject headings or provide a list of broader terms, narrower terms, and see also references. These provide additional opportunities to focus your search.
    • In some cases, results of a search will not include the subject term that you searched. This does not mean that the Library does not have materials on this topic. LC Subject Headings are not always intuitive. For example, the LC Subject Heading for the Vietnam War or Conflict is Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975.

Strategy 3 - Use LCSH after you have found an item:

  1. Locate an item in the Online Library Catalog and click on the title to view the record for the item.
  2. Scroll through the record to the heading Subject (LCSH), these are the Library of Congress Subject Headings for this item.
  3. Click on a subject heading link to view an alphabetical list of subject headings.
    Click on a subject heading in this list to view a list of items that have been assigned that subject heading.
    Click  See Also box to the left of the subject heading, if available, to view additional subject headings to focus your search.