Subject Analysis Committee

Subcommittee on Form Headings/Subdivision Implementation

Final Report

(January 2000)


The Subcommittee was formed in the Fall of 1995 with this charge:

Work with interested and involved parties on the widespread implementation and use of "explicitly coded" form data in bibliographic databases (the subfield v and the 655 field). The subcommittee should serve to coordinate interested parties including thesauri and subject heading list publishers (LC, NLM, ATT, MTP), bibliographic utilities, local system vendors, authority control vendors, OPAC researchers and other ALA committees including MARBI and the ALCTS Catalog Form and Function Committee. The committee should publicize the availability of the explicitly coded form tagging and encourage implementation.

The Subcommittee met for the first time in January 1996. Since then the Subcommittee has been very active, and has met at least once at every ALA conference. Our activities have included:

February 1996-present

Web page with committee documentation posted and kept current by Arlene Taylor (


Questions sent to Thesaurus developers regarding use of form terms


Questions sent to Library System Developers regarding the handling of form data by their systems

February 1997

Held "Open session with Vendors"

June 1997

Sponsored ALA program: "Everything you wanted to know about Form/Genre Access but were afraid to ask"

January 1999

Educational Forum on the Use of Subfield V

June 1999

Second Educational Forum on the Use of Subfield V

July 1999

"Access to Form Data in Online Catalogs," published in the ALCTS Newsletter Online as part of the Catalog Form and Function Committee's briefing papers series, From Catalog to Gateway ( This article was a joint effort of four committee members, and provides a good survey and history.

Subfield v: At present, the subfield has been widely implemented and the subcommittee has served in a critical role in this effort. The Library of Congress is issuing subdivision authority records and will continue to do so for another year. Some authority control vendors are providing retrospective conversion services and even OCLC, which never intended to convert their entire database, has converted subfields in at least 1 million records (as of October 1999).

Field 655: This field was in widespread use prior to 1995, particularly by rare books catalogers and public library catalogers for fiction. What remains to be decided are questions about when to use 655's and when to use subfield v. These decisions will not be made soon, or easily, particularly for the Library of Congress. Each subject or format specialty group has their own answer. For example, the British Library, in a paper presented by Andrew MacEwan to the Subcommittee and other groups, recommended that GSAFD terms be incorporated, as much as possible, into LCSH ( ). However, this has not yet been implemented and the Subcommittee is not aware of similar efforts on the part of other GSAFD users. Another example is the National Library of Medicine's decision to drop most subfield v's in favor of 655's and use primarily keyword access. This decision has met with considerable resistance from the rest of the medical cataloging community.

Even though all of the questions have not been answered as to the "best way" to provide access to form/genre in the MARC21 formats, the tools (subfield v and the 655 field) are now available, and the Subcommittee feels that it has met its charge. It is doubtful that further meetings of the subcommittee, at this time, would be productive. System vendors and librarians are experimenting with various ways to access and present form/genre information. The Subcommittee recommends that the Subject Analysis Committee continue to monitor developments in form/genre access as a Committee of the Whole.

The subcommittee wants to particularly recognize Arlene Taylor for keeping our Web documentation up to date for so very long. We also owe thanks to some non-committee members who contributed significantly:

Respectfully submitted, Jan. 2000

Mary Charles Lasater, Chair
Josephine Crawford, Coordinator
Ruth Bogan
John Espley
Linda Gabel
Harriette Hemmasi
David Miller
John Mitchell
Arlene G. Taylor
Tom Yee, Liaison from the Library of Congress

And previous members:
Pat Thomas
Fran Miksa