Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Chronological Terms and Period Subdivisions in LCSH, RAMEAU, and RSWK: Development of an Integrative Model for Time Retrieval across Various Online Catalogs

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Chronological Terms and Period Subdivisions in LCSH, RAMEAU, and RSWK: Development of an Integrative Model for Time Retrieval across Various Online Catalogs

Article excerpt

After a fundamental examination of the phenomenon of time, this paper presents the history, authority, and structure of period subdivisions and chronological terms in the three subject heading languages LCSH, RAMEAU, and RSWK. Their usefulness in online searching is demonstrated using the online catalogs of the Library of Congress, the Bibliotheque nationale de France, and the Deutsche Bibliothek and is compared to the search options in selected digital encyclopedias (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encarta, BrockhausEnzyldopadie). The author develops a model for common time retrieval across all three online catalogs, outlines the conditions for that model (time period code, chronological code, and chronology authority file), and proposes a search interface.


In the era of globalization and internationalization, researchers are often required to access library materials from all over the world and beyond their native cultural understanding. Technically, this is possible through the Internet, which facilitates simultaneous searching in any number of online catalogs. However, varying languages and different cataloging rules make it hard for the user to conduct effective searches.

This paper focuses on subject searching. The term "subject" includes 'all topical aspects as well as all material about an author or about a specific work or publication. Chronological terms--that is, epoch headings, historiographic terms, terms with chronological restrictions (such as names of persons with dates of birth and death), and time codifications (years, dates)--are analyzed from both the cataloging and the retrieval standpoints. Furthermore, looking beyond the library field, chronological access to digital encyclopedias is explored. Finally, a new time retrieval model for linked multinational online public access catalogs (OPACs) is proposed.

The Problem

Librarians and documentalists have always considered the time aspect in subject cataloging an important element of subject analysis. Langridge attributes different values to the concept of "time" depending on the discipline. (1) While this category plays a comparatively minor role in science, technology, and social studies, it is more important and in fact constitutes the central category in history.

The ability to limit subject access chronologically, whether by subject headings or by classification, is a reasonable premise. Cochrane states, "In the online catalog, how can we limit a subject search on the basis of date or chronological period?" (2) The search using chronological terms in online catalogs is a challenge, one that has been documented in studies. Two of the studies are described here.

A study by Frost has examined a sample of records extracted from the University of Michigan Library's shelf-list to determine the degree of similarity between subject heading terms and title terms. (3) All of the 2,268 sample records included the Library of Congress classification number, enabling a comparison of the similarities between various disciplines. Frost found that an exact match (between entire subject heading and title terms) occurred in only 4 percent of the history materials, compared to 23 percent in the sciences and technology. (4)

Another study, by Bates, Wilde, and Siegfried, analyzed the search terminology used by humanities scholars in DIALOG database retrieval. (5) In a two-year period (1989 to 1990), 165 natural language retrievals were conducted using 1,068 search terms from various categories. The occurrence of chronological terms totaled 16 percent in all natural language search statements that contained more than one type of term. Chronological terms are of three types: "date" or "date range," "period," and "time modifier. (6) These results supported findings in the authors' more detailed research project with the National Science Foundation in 1988 that showed that chronological terms appeared in 5 percent of search statements in the social sciences and not at all in the natural sciences. …

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