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HIS 1357 World War II

Subject Headings vs. Keywords; Library of Congress Subject Headings vs. the Database Thesauri

Subject headings (sometimes called Descriptors) are like tags for photographs; they briefly describe what a book or article is about, thus gathering disparately worded titles together under official terms.  Some databases (i.e. periodical indices) create and enforce the use of their own (given in what a database sometimes (but not always) calls its Thesaurus), while others use those created by the Library of Congress for book catalogs (SPU + Summit, Libraries Worldwide, the Harvard catalog HOLLIS, etc.).  For those created by the latter, see (and learn to use) Library of Congress Subject Headings.

For this class, the official Library of Congress Subject Heading "World War, 1939-1945" ("1939-1945", or even just 193? AND 194?, can be be used in the Subject field as well) will be helpful in finding material about the Second World War in both 1) book catalogs and 2) those databases that tend to use Library of Congress Subject Headings (or modified forms thereof) rather than their own.

An example of a database that does not use Library of Congress Subject Headings, but rather its own Subject Term under Indexes (rather than Thesaurus, as stated above), would be, not insignificantly for this course, the SPU database Historical Abstracts, which employs "World War II" instead, such that "World War, 1939-1945" (the official Library of Congress Subject Heading) returned but 64 peer-reviewed hits when placed in its Subject field on 10 January 2023, by comparison with "World War II" (the official Historical Abstracts Subject Term), which returned 30,038.  (The unofficial Keyphrase "Second World War" returned 1,692 in its Title field, to 1,173 (or nearly 70%) of which it had by that point assigned also its own official Subject Term of "World War II".)

Other useful terms that are often in Subject headings (and can, of course, be used in Keyword and Title fields as well) are location names ("Great Britain", Germany).  Topical Keywords and -phrases like "home front" or "Third Reich", and Keywords and -phrases that describe genres of writing like memoir, autobiography, or "personal narratives" can also be useful.  For many, many more suggestions along that last line, almost all of them also official Library of Congress Genre/From Terms, Subject Headings, and Free-Floating Subdivisions, see the Perisho handout entitled Identifying Published Primary Sources, below.  Try using some combination of these with the "1939-1945" Subject Heading to get a more focused results list.

Needless to say, a thorough search will probe both, i.e. Keyword and Title fields as well as Subject fields.  The point here is that only official Subject headings, whether those of the Library of Congress in some cases, or those of a given database in others, will work well in (the also very valuable) Subject fields of book catalogs and databases (periodical indices) both.

Finding What You Need In a Book

An easy way to find the best chapter or section of a book to read is to check the Table of Contents, which can often be searched online, even for print books. To find the Table of Contents, click on the title of the book you are interested in, and scroll down to the "Details" section. The Table of Contents will appear there, along with a short summary of the book and the subject headings used to describe it. Both the Table of Contents and the summary are searchable using the Ctrl-F function. (Note that older books sometimes don't have this feature.)

E-books' Tables of Contents often appear on the left navigation bar once you've logged into the book. E-books are also often fully text searchable, with a search bar in the left navigation bar. 

For print books, the index in the back of the book gives particular pages numbers with information on different subjects, places, and people. Instead of reading the whole book, start at the pages that the index shows have information on your topic.

Accessing E-books

As a current student, you have access to e-books owned by the SPU library. You can search for e-books in the catalog, and access them with your SPU credentials. For more on finding and using e-books, see our e-book subject guide.

Requesting a Book

To request a book from the SPU library or from one of our Summit partners, first sign in with your SPU credentials on the catalog page. Find the book you want to request, click on the title, and scroll down the page to where it says "Get It," the follow the link and the prompts to submit your request. You'll receive an e-mail when your book is ready for pickup in our contactless pickup system.

Requesting a Chapter Scan

If you need access to a chapter of a book SPU owns, you can request a scan of that chapter. Use the Chapter Scan Request Form to submit your request.