Financial subject analysis

Taking a look at the subject headings that have come up so far in the project reveals a heavy bias towards financial matters. Anyone reading the blog posts up top this point is likely to be unsurprised by this. As far as I’m concerned, the preponderance of public finance related pamphlets presents a set of special challenges for cataloging. The dilemma that immediately comes forth is that with several thousand pamphlets on public finance, any user searching for public finance will be presented with an overwhelming number of records. Because these are special collections materials, individually paging thousands of pamphlets to search for a specific financial topic is unwieldy, time consuming, and inconvenient for both researchers and library staff. Is it worthwhile to tack on the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) Finance, Public on every pamphlet that touches on the subject?

We asked a similar question early on in the project: should we add the France—History—Revolution, 1789-1799—Sources subject heading to all of the pamphlets? In that case, the decision was no. Having the same subject string for 20,000 records that are all part of the same collection means that the subject is virtually meaningless. Researchers could use it in combination with other headings, but in terms of making the pamphlets easily findable, it doesn’t accomplish very much, especially when the name of the collection is French Revolution Collection (FRC). We decided not to add this string. This dilemma helps to underscore why local cataloging practices are important. A library with a less extensive collection of these pamphlets would be well served by including this subject string as a method of collocating all the primary source documents in its online catalog.

This is where more specific subject headings come in handy. While it seems like there are a great many highly specialized, apparently redundant, subject headings on financial matters, subtle distinctions between subject headings become vital when the collection becomes this large. Of course, this also requires additional time from the cataloger. A good example of this is the various “policy” subject headings that are narrower terms under Finance, Public (Fiscal policy, Monetary policy, Commercial policy, etc.). These headings have proven invaluable to prevent a deluge of Finance, Public, but require careful analysis to understand the distinctions.

Fiscal policy, monetary policy, and commercial policy all concern government attempts to control the economy. Each of these three headings represents a different method of doing so. Fiscal policy is essentially government tax policy. This covers government activities designed to affect the economy through manipulation of taxes. Monetary policy is similar, but the vehicle for economic manipulation is currency, be it through printing more fiat money, less fiat money, or converting to decimal currency. Commercial policy is slightly different in that it focuses on government policy towards foreign trade. By double checking pamphlets and making sure that none of these three headings applies before applying a Finance, Public heading helps to reduce the “wall of finance” effect.

What if a researcher did want to collocate all of the financial records in one place? What if some penitent cataloger feels the need for some masochistic collection analysis? Well, this is still possible with the FRC collection without engaging in fancy search strategies involving multiple limiters. There is still a heading that gets applied to nearly all of these pamphlets, France—History—Revolution, 1789-1799—Economic aspects—Sources. This heading has several advantages over the vanilla Finance, Public. The Economic aspects string is significantly more focused than Finance, Public, since even with the appropriate subdivisions (Finance, Public—France—Early works to 1800) the subject heading still covers over 1000 years of French history. While still presenting a daunting number of options, the longer subject string only covers ten years, and different period subdivisions (Directory, 1795-1799, Reign of Terror, 1793-1794, etc.) allow for even more precise identification while still collocating relevant pamphlets.

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