Thursday, 21 November 2013

Pictorial works - subject headings

This is a little tip for you.  The standard subject heading used by libraries for books of pictures is "pictorial works."  This seems logical enough; however, few people would use this as a search term when looking for photography, and would therefore miss out on some books.

If you are looking for books with photographs of Britain, try searching for "pictorial works" AND Britain (as well as the more intuitive photography AND Britain).  It is important to do this, as the catalogue record for books of photographs sometimes do not refer to 'photographs' or 'photography' at all but do use the term "pictorial works"!

As an example, compare the results for these two searches (I have used the subject field in advanced search for these examples):

petroleum AND photography

petroleum AND pictorial works

The first 'obvious' query retrieves two results; but the second less obvious query retrieves two additional results.

You could argue that this is just poor cataloguing; and you might be right.  Certainly, Edward Burtynsky's monumental book, Oil, ought to include additional subject headings, including ones related to photography.  (You can see a fuller record on COPAC here). However, the broader point is that in order to search catalogues effectively, it helps to understand the language that they use to describe resources - particularly in the subject fields.  

After all, it is not only 'pictorial works' which is a non-intuitive term, but also 'petroleum.'  Search for oil AND photography or oil AND pictorial works and your results are even more unsatisfactory.