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Invited Presentation

5th Annual Conference of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association

August 13-16, 2002, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Program: What's In a Word? Improving Subject Access.

The (SACO) Subject Authority Cooperative Program : The More the Better

Presented by

Tatiana Barr

University of Florida, Gainesville


As my colleagues have demonstrated there is a great deal in a word, and in the early 1990s the Library of Congress who had shouldered the burden of providing these words for us since the early 1900s, decided enough was enough (or more is better), and collaborated on the Subject Authority Cooperative Program. The Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO) is the subject heading component of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC). The Program for Cooperative Cataloging now consists of:

BIBCO (Monographic Bibliographic Record Cooperative Program)
NACO (Name Authority Cooperative Program)
CONSER (Cooperative Online Serials Program)
SACO (Subject Authority Cooperative Program)

The Program for Cooperative Cataloging itself was initiated in 1995, building on the examples of NACO and CONSER, which had been in existence since the 1970s. Deliberations about such a cooperative program began in 1993 with the Cooperative Cataloging Council working with the Library of Congress. It envisioned that a fully operative cooperative program would be in place by 2000.

The original Program for Cooperative Cataloging was created to provide "useful, timely, and cost-effective cataloging that meets mutually-accepted standards for libraries around the world" or as it was rather bluntly put at the time, "better, faster, cheaper!" The Library of Congress could no longer provide copy fast enough, backlogs were huge. This dilemma has also been true for new subjects as well. And so SACO was established to provide other libraries a means to propose new Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH) and LC classification (LCC) numbers. It allows libraries to submit new subject headings or changes to existing subject headings, and everyone knows how wonderful it is to have a ready-made classification number provided on an authority record. SACO has grown from 89 participants in 1992 to 350 in 2000, and submissions have grown from 500 submitted in 1992 to 2,700 submitted in 2000 (latest available).

Who can join SACO?

Anyone. As of now, SACO is not an institution based program, like NACO, which requires a formal commitment to personnel and training. "It is the only component of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging that is open to any library who wishes to join; there are no formal training requirements and SACO participants do not need to belong to a bibliographic utility or even catalog in an online environment in order to submit subject headings and class number proposals" (SACO website)

In common parlance any library that contributes to SACO is called a SACO library. Catalogers can contribute individually, although a cataloger should consult with their supervisors before submitting proposals to make sure they have institutional support, but the more frequent mode of operation is to assign a librarian to be a coordinator for all proposals and the direct liaison with a member of the SACO team. There are no formal training requirements. Contributors need only follow the requirements for submitting a proposal as set forth in the SACO Participant's Manual and follow the guidelines for establishing subject headings in the Subject Cataloging Manual: Subject Headings. More formal training is made available by the Library of Congress, including a basic LCSH workshop, and workshops on more specific topics such as the recent one on biological organisms. These SACO workshops are offered free of charge at ALA.

Like PCC, SACO is international in scope, and there are currently five foreign SACO participants: Edmonton Public Library, National Library of Australia, National Library of Lithuania, The Law Society of Upper Canada, and the University of Swaziland (Kawaluseni, Swaziland)

Why join SACO?

  • It serves users' needs
  • Existing LCSH and LC call numbers are not always adequate
  • The Library of Congress collections and those of other libraries differ
  • You might have strengths in specific topics (for example, a botany library)
  • There are new disciplines and topics constantly emerging
  • You have the satisfaction of supplying a subject heading of the appropriate specificity
  • Catalogers, both professional and paraprofessional, can learn new skills, challenge themselves, and make national/international contributions; it is stimulating to do research and see one's work included in the national authority file
  • Libraries can add useful x-references; update obsolete terminology

For more elaboration on why joining SACO is a real plus, see the Top Five Reasons Why Library Administrators Should Support Participation in the Program for Cooperative Cataloging at All these reasons are applicable across the board to all the components of the PCC.

This quote from Hugh Taylor, Head of Cataloguing at the Cambridge University Library,
Cambridge, England, reflects the breadth and depth of today's SACO program and I thought echoes the themes of this conference:

"The ability to propose new subject headings and to develop LCSH beyond the confines of US libraries' collection development policies is of immense benefit to us - It means that concepts reflected in our collections and cultural traditions can quickly and easily be supported by authority records made available to the whole community. The alternative - local authority records - would benefit nobody except ourselves" (PCC website)

What are SACO Funnel Projects?

The SACO focus on specificity and special subject materials led to the creation of funnel projects. A funnel project is "a group of libraries" (or individual catalogers from various libraries) that have joined together to contribute authority records to the national authority file(s)." They

  • Usually work in the same subject area, such as Art NACO
  • They may be regionally based, such as the North Dakota Funnel
  • Coordinated by one person or institution, who works with the Library of Congress
  • Provide training, guidance, excellent feedback

SACO has two so far: The Africana Subject Funnel Project which has been in existence for many years, and the most recent African American Subject Funnel Project, which was established in 2000 and is being coordinated by Dorothy Washington of The Black Cultural Center Library of Purdue University. It has currently 13 participants. The funnel projects' websites at

contain very interesting background information on how they were formed, surveys of participants about the need for a funnel, and more historical information.

The African American Subject Funnel Project was a collaboration between the African American Studies and Librarians Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Library of Congress. According to Ms. Washington, she works with and revises the work of participants with less experience in submitting subject heading proposals, while the more experienced catalogers submit them directly to LC. The first proposal was submitted by the Black Cultural Center Library of Purdue University. It proposed to change the subject heading "Afro-Americans" to "African Americans" and LC implemented this change in 2001. "African American social reformers" is another example of a subject heading that came through the funnel.

Just for curiosity's sake, since I am not an African American subject specialist, I contacted Suzanne Graham, Catalog Librarian, at the University of Southern Mississippi, who has been working closely with Diana DeCesare Ross, Digitization Librarian, on a local thesaurus of terms for The Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive (they did a presentation at the Cataloging Norms Discussion Group at ALA in June 2002). She suggested three terms off the top of her head that she would like to see established as subject headings: "Trials (Discrimination)", "African American schools", and "Freedom elections" (to represent straw polls of unregistered African American voters). She also felt that "African Americans and libraries" was too broad and would like to see more specific headings.

How does SACO work?

  • All necessary documentation and tools for submitting proposals for subject headings and call numbers are conveniently on the SACO website, including the SACO Participants' Manual, an FAQ, and you can submit proposal by email, fax, online, and regular mail. BIBCO participants have an option of using a web-based form

  • Proposals are submitted through the Regional and Cooperative Cataloging Division at the Library of Congress, and are first reviewed by members of the Cooperative Cataloging Team at the Library of Congress. The COOP team will notify the contributing libraries if there are major problems, missing elements, or whether it is viable or not; or make suggestions. This team provides valuable and thorough subject and procedural support. This team meets weekly to discuss proposals.

  • The COOP team forwards the proposals to the Cataloging Policy and Support Office where they are assigned to a future weekly list. Once on a weekly list (on the website) the contributor will know the date of the COOP team's Editorial Meeting where the heading will be discussed. At this stage, proposals are considered pre-approved. Although there are various ways of tracking your subject heading, at the University of Florida, we wait until the actual (or revised subject heading) appears in our Library of Congress authority file or OCLC to notify our catalogers. They do not hold the item being cataloged, but are responsible for any maintenance of bibliographic records to incorporate any changes the COOP team may have suggested.

  • If a proposal is approved by the COOP team at their Editorial Meeting, it appears on the Approved Weekly List posted on the CPSO homepage and now on SACO homepage:

    This can take about two weeks after the Editorial Meeting

  • If the subject heading is not approved, coordinators/contributors will be notified. "Not Approved" or "Withdrawn" proposals may be reformulated and resubmitted.

  • After the Editorial Meeting, revisions are made in the LCSH Master Database and the subject authority records for that weekly list are then distributed by the Cataloging Distribution Service to utililities and other subscribers.

  • Generally, subject authority records can be retrieved in the utilities six to eight weeks after a SACO proposal was submitted. Sometimes, they get lost-and then it is up to the contributor to contact the COOP team to learn about the status of the proposal.

  • COOP members are in direct contact with coordinators or catalogers, and the minutes of their deliberations (very useful) are posted on SACOLIST, as well as at the end of the weekly list. Coordinators, who are on the list might want to share these minutes with the catalogers to help them understand the thinking of the LC team.

A quick map of the route your subject heading takes:

  • Cooperative Cataloging Team of the Library of Congress
  • Cataloging Policy and Support Office for distribution to
  • Tentative Weekly Lists
  • Editorial Meeting of COOP Team
  • Approved Weekly Lists
  • LCSH Master Database updated
  • Cataloging Distribution Service
  • Utilities and subscribers, Cataloging Service Bulletin (Quarterly), Library of Congress Subject Headings (Red Books)
  • THE WORLD!!!!

What is it like submitting subject headings to SACO?

It is easier than ever to submit subject headings. The Library of Congress is very liberal these days about the kinds of subject headings they approve that reflect modern public usage. In the interests of capturing new topics and disciplines in a rapidly changing world, and also to accommodate an environment where patrons' expectations are influenced by their searching techniques on Google (essentially keyword searching on terms the user knows), SACO makes it easier to support and justify subject headings. I believe it was in the 1970s and 1980s that the Library of Congress began to respond to criticisms that their language was often "obsolete and prejudicial," "offensive", pedantic, and did not reflect the "socio-linguistic revolutions" of modern times (Wydnar, p. 466). SACO is really the next step in this process.

In addition to subject headings established according to the patterns in the Subject Cataloging Manual, further succinct guidelines are provided in the SACO Participant's Manual. Sometimes, the item being cataloged is the only "warrant" or source necessary to justify the form of a subject heading. If research is called for, it may, depending on the topic, have to demonstrate a "consensus of usage," but I have noted business subject heading records that merely cite the number of hits in such databases as NEXIS. Catalogers are not restricted to any definitive lists of preferred reference sources, although some lists of standard reference sources are supplied. Of course, every field has its own standard sources. But sources that a cataloger can use have expanded to include the WWW, databases, etc. It is up to the cataloger to know or decide whether his or her source is scholarly, sound, or reflects common usage. Obscure and older topics may require more research to justify their use or form. Modern topics less.

A good overview and feel of the direction subject headings are taking is the Cataloging Service Bulletin's lists of new subject areas of interest, which were first introduced in 1982 as "new subject headings that represent popular trends and concepts" (Wydnar, p. 467). These, from issues in 2000 and 2001-Globalization, Dog attacks, School shootings, Liability for emotional distress, Corporate power-tell some of the stories of today's world in language most of us know. They seem to be lifted out of today's headlines, and demonstrate the natural language/usage that is being accepted today as subject headings. In fact lately, my cataloging experience has been that if I have a subject in my mind that I would like to apply, it is always worth searching using my own terminology first.

As an example of the process: I cataloged a book on the use of dance cards in Belgium's Walloon area. I knew what dance cards were and thought "what a cool piece of cultural history-but, what, no subject heading?" (And our Special Collections had a large number of these dance cards.) And so I decided it would be useful. I submitted it using three 670s: the Dance Card Museum WWW site, the OED On-line, and a full text version of the 1922 ed. of Emily Post's Etiquette. I used Google and our Library online reference collection. It passed muster with the COOP team. The full set of subject headings for this record read:

650/4: 0: |a Dance cards |z Belgium |x History.
650/1: 0: |a Dance etiquette |z Belgium |x History.
650/2: 0: |a Balls (Parties) |z Belgium |x History.
650/3: 0: |a Dance |x Social aspects |z Belgium.

If I decide on doing a CORE record on a similar book in the future, I now have the very specific "Dance cards" which speeds up my cataloging, and in this way SACO helps support the PCC philosophy. Dance cards seem a silly thing, but I feel that by creating this one subject heading I will make a lot of avid collectors and scholars of dance cards very happy and helped speed up cataloging. (It turns out that dance cards are even making a comeback in some places.)

What is the role of the SACO liaison/coordinator?

The role of any SACO liaison, if your library goes this route, depends to some extent on the library. Generally, the liaison is responsible for processing and submitting the forms and keeping abreast of SACO developments. There is no formal training for participation in SACO generally, but attending the basic LCSH workshop is expected of coordinators. Are all SACO liaisons specialists in the subject headings they submit? No. At the most recent SACO workshop I attended, "How to Propose Subject Headings for Biological Organisms for LCSH", only one person had a degree in a science, biology; the others, like me, had been appointed to the role. I was taking this because the University of Florida is strong in the sciences and agriculture. What you rely on is the expertise in your community, both within the library and on the academic side. It is one of the exciting challenges of this role.


SACO is a very dynamic program. Every single subject heading you add is of value. There may be an initial period of training which takes time, it may take time to do research, it may require commitment of staff and time which administrators would question, but the support is excellent. It provides opportunities for expanding the horizons of the catalogers, and allows your library to build on its subject strengths and provide an invaluable service to library users and researchers worldwide.


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