Library Science

Cataloguing Versus Indexing

There has always been confusion about the distinction between ‘subject cataloguing’ and ‘subject indexing‘. Basically, cataloguing is the process of creating bibliographic description of a document as a whole entity, and subject cataloguing and classification assign subject labels which together descnbe the overall topic of the document. Indexing involves delving into a document for analysing its contents at a much deeper level to provide access to many of the concepts contained within it at greater depth. Although most articles in a periodical issue and many books are listed under only one or two subject headings, a back-of-the-book index contains hundreds of subject terms associated with the content of an individual book.Cataloguing Versus Indexing

Subject cataloguing usually refers to the assignment of subject headings to represent the overall contents of whole documents (e.g. books, reports, periodicals, etc.) within the catalogue of a library. Subject indexing is a term used more loosely; it may refer to the representation of the subject matter of the parts of whole documents as in the case of a back-of-the-book subject index. Thus, a library may enter a book under the subject heading ‘noses’ in its catalogue to indicate its overall subject matter, the detailed contents of the book are only revealed by the back-of-the-book subject index. This distinction between the terms ‘subject cataloguing’ and ‘subject indexing’, one referring to complete bibliographic items and other to parts of them, is artificial, misleading, and inconsistent. The process by which the subject matter of documents is represented in databases-printed or electronic form-is almost referred to as ‘subject indexing’, whether overall documents or their parts are discussed. Thus, the subject index might refer to the representation of the content of the complete books or complete technical reports as well as to the parts of documents (e.g. chapters in books, papers within the periodicals or conference proceedings, etc.). On the other hand, libraries may choose to represent parts of books (e.g. chapters or papers) within the catalogue which is usually referred to as analytical cataloguing.

The situation is even more confusing when the term classification is considered. The term classification refers to the process of assigning class numbers, drawn from a given classification scheme, to documents, especially for the purpose of arranging these items on the shelves of the libraries, in catalogues, etc. But the subject catalogue of a library can be either alphabetically based (in an alphabetical subject catalogue or dictionary catalogue) or arranged according to the sequence of a classification scheme (in a classified catalogue). Suppose a librarian picks up a book and decides that it is about ‘banking’. He or she might assign the subject heading Banking to this document. Alternatively, the Dewey Decimal classification number 332.1 may be assigned to it. Many people would refer to the first operation as subject cataloguing and to the second as classification. These terminological distinctions are quite meaningless and only serve to create confusion due to failure to understand the distinction between the conceptual analysis and translation stage in indexing. In short, subject indexing is conceptually identical to subject cataloguing. Its process involves classification, forming classes of objects on the basis of their subject matter and representing them either in the verbal plane (by using a readymade list of subject headings or a thesaurus) or in the notational plane (by using a scheme of classification). In this Unit, the term subject indexing or simply indexing is used as a matter of convenience to refer to all activities of subject cataloguing.


Article Collected From:

  • Sarkhel, J. (2017). Unit-9 Basics of Subject Indexing. Retrieved from http://egyankosh.ac.in/handle/123456789/35769

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Md. Ashikuzzaman

Work at North South University Library, Bangladesh.

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