Frontmatter:  View Table of Contents  |  Preface  |  A History of the Sears List  |  Principles of the Sears List
Headings:  Headings to be Added by the Cataloger  |  "Key" Headings  |  List of Canceled and Replaced Headings
Subdivisions:  The Use of Subdivisions in the Sears List  |  List of Subdivisions Provided for in the Sears List
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Sears List of Subject Headings
Twenty-Third Edition



Since the first edition in 1923, the Sears List has served the unique needs of small and medium-sized libraries, suggesting headings appropriate for use in their catalogs and providing patterns and instructions for adding new headings as they are required. The successive editors of the List have faced the need to accommodate change while maintaining a sound continuity. The new and revised headings in each edition reflect developments in the material catalogued, in the use of the English language, and in cataloging theory and practice. The aim is always to make library collections as easily available as possible to library users.

The Principles of the Sears List, which follows A History of the Sears List, is intended both as a statement of the theoretical foundations of the Sears List and as a concise introduction to subject cataloging in general. The List of Commonly Used Subdivisions, which follows the Principles, lists, for the purpose of easy reference, every subdivision for which there is a provision in the List, no matter how specialized. For every subdivision there is also an entry in the alphabetical List with full instructions for the use of that particular subdivision. There are also many examples of the use of subdivisions, emphasizing that the use of subdivisions is an essential method of expanding and adapting the List to a library’s particular needs.

The Sears List of Subject Headings is available as a printed volume, as an online database and as MARC records for direct integration with a library’s ILS. Email for more information.

What is New in This Edition

This is the second edition of the Sears List produced by Grey House Publishing, which acquired the title in 2018. In addition to updating the look of the Sears List with cleaner lines and more accessible typography, the content is now also available as an online database that librarians can access at no charge for one year as part of their print purchase.

New headings in this edition reflect the changing needs of library users, which includes addressing the growing literature in the areas of racial equality, societal changes, technological advances, and the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics. Regarding recent racial and societal changes, terms such as Anti-fascist movement, Black Lives Matter movement, Generation Z, and Nonbinary people have been added. Crowdfunding and Cryptocurrencies are two technological terms added to this edition, reflecting shifts in digital financing. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019, certain terms have risen to prominence, including COVID-19 itself, and Masks. In these and other areas many provisions have been added for creating more new headings as needed. Many were suggested by librarians representing various sizes and types of libraries, by commercial vendors of bibliographic records, and by the catalogers, indexers, and subject specialists at EBSCO Information Services. The Sears Advisory Board also guided the decisions in this new edition.

With the twenty-first edition, all headings conform to the new RDA standards. RDA, which stands for Resource Description and Access, is the cataloging standard that replaced AACR2 in early 2013. While many of the rules have stayed the same, there is an impact on the format of subject headings in certain areas. This new edition of the Sears List makes a concentrated effort to adhere to those new standards where applicable including bringing headings for fictional characters, legendary characters, and deities into compliance.

Other revisions address the changing demographics of library users and aim to correspond more closely to current literature and library patron search expectations. This includes canceling headings such as Blacks in favor of Black people, and Mental retardation in favor of Intellectual disabilities. Many replaced headings take into consideration numerous subdivisions.

For the convenience of librarians maintaining their catalogs, these revisions and all other revisions are spelled out in the List of Canceled and Replacement Headings.

This twenty-third edition of the Sears List, the second to be published by Grey House Publishing, was edited by Violet Fox, a Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at Northwestern University.

The Scope of the Sears List

No list can possibly provide a heading for every idea, object, process, or relationship, especially not within the scope of a single volume. What Sears hopes to offer instead is a basic list that includes many of the headings most likely to be needed in small libraries together with patterns and examples that will guide the cataloger in creating additional headings as needed. New topics appear every day, and books on those topics require new subject headings. Headings for new topics can be developed from the Sears List in two ways, by establishing new terms as needed and by subdividing the headings already in the List. Instructions for creating new headings based on the pattern in Sears and sources for establishing the wording of new headings are given in the Principles of the Sears List. The various kinds of subdivisions and the rules for their application are also discussed in the Principles of the Sears List.

It is only by being flexible and expandable that Sears has been able over the years to fill the needs of various kinds of libraries. The degree or level of specificity required for a collection depends entirely on the material being collected. While a small library is unlikely to need very narrow topics of a technical or scientific nature, it is not at all unlikely that it might have a gardening book on Irises. That term is not in the List, but it would be added as a narrower term under Flowers.

Form of Headings

It was the policy of Minnie Sears to use the Library of Congress form of subject headings with some modification, chiefly the simplification of phrasing. The Sears List still reflects the usage of the Library of Congress unless there is some compelling reason to vary, but those instances of variation have become numerous over the years. A major difference between the two lists is that in Sears the direct form of entry has replaced the inverted form, on the theory that most library users search for multiple-word terms in the order in which they occur naturally in the language. In most cases cross-references have been made from the inverted form and from the Library of Congress form where it otherwise varies.

Scope Notes

As in previous editions, all the new and revised headings in this edition have been provided with scope notes where such notes are required. Scope notes are intended to clarify the specialized use of a term or to distinguish between terms that might be confused. If there is any question of what a term means, the cataloger should simply consult a dictionary. There are times, however, when subject headings require a stricter limitation of a term than the common usage given in a dictionary would allow, as in the case of Marketing, a term in business and economics, not to be confused with Grocery shopping. Here a scope note is required. Some scope notes distinguish between topics and forms, such as Encyclopedias and dictionaries for critical and historical materials and the subdivisions Encyclopedias and Dictionaries under topics for items that are themselves encyclopedias or dictionaries. There are also scope notes in Sears that identify any headings in the area of literature that may be assigned to individual works of drama, fiction, poetry, etc.


The classification numbers in this edition of Sears are taken from the Abridged WebDewey, the continuously updated online version of the Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification. The numbers are intended only to direct the cataloger to a place in the DDC schedules where material on that subject is often found. They are not intended as a substitute for consulting the schedules, notes, and manual of the DDC itself when classifying a particular item. The relationship between subject headings and classification is further discussed in the Principles of the Sears List.

Usually only one number is assigned to a subject heading. In some cases, however, when a subject can be treated in more than one discipline, the subject is then given more than one number in the List. The heading Chemical industry, for example, is given two numbers, 338.4 and 660, which represent possible classification numbers for materials dealing with the chemical industry from the viewpoints of economics and technology respectively. Classification numbers are not assigned to a few very general subject headings, such as Charters, Exhibitions, Hallmarks, and Identification, which cannot be classified unless a specific application is identified. The alphabetic notation of B for individual biographies is occasionally provided in addition to Dewey classification numbers for such materials. Numbers in the 810s and 840s prefixed by a C are given as optional numbers for topics in Canadian literature.

The Dewey numbers given in Sears are extended as far as is authorized by the Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification, which is seldom more than four places beyond the decimal point. When an item being classified has a particular form or geographic specificity, the number may be extended by adding form and geographic subdivisions from the Dewey tables. Only a few examples of built numbers are given in Sears, such as 940.53022 forWorldWar, 1939-1945—Pictorial works. No library should feel the need to extend classification numbers beyond what is practical for the size of the library’s collection. For a discussion of close and broad classification and for instructions on building numbers from the Dewey tables, the cataloger should consult the introduction to the most recent edition of the Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index.

Style, Filing, Etc.

For spelling and definitions the editor has relied upon Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1961) and the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd ed., revised and updated (1997). Capitalization and the forms of corporate and geographic names used as examples are based on the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd ed., 2002 revision, and have been updated to be RDA compliant. The filing of entries is alphabetical by main heading, with subheadings following, also alphabetically. This is a change from the filing of the twentieth edition, but catalogers should note that they are not obligated to change the order used in their library. Corporate name headings for corporate entities within other entities, such as United States, Army, are interfiled with the subdivisions for the main corporate heading.

Every term in the List that may be used as a subject heading is printed in boldface type whether it is a main term; a term in a Use reference; a broader, narrower, or related term; or an example in a scope note or general reference. If a term is not printed in boldface type, it is not used as a heading.

A History of the Sears List

Minnie Earl Sears prepared the first edition of this work in response to demands for a list of subject headings that was better suited to the needs of the small library than the existing American Library Association and Library of Congress lists. Published in 1923, the List of Subject Headings for Small Libraries was based on the headings used by nine small libraries that were known to be well cataloged. Minnie Sears used only See and “refer from” references in the first edition. In the second edition (1926) she added See also references at the request of teachers of cataloging who were using the List as a textbook. To make the List more useful for that purpose, she wrote a chapter on “Practical Suggestions for the Beginner in Subject Heading Work” for the third edition (1933).

Isabel Stevenson Monro edited the fourth (1939) and fifth (1944) editions. A new feature of the fourth edition was the inclusion of Dewey Decimal Classification numbers as applied in the Standard Catalog for Public Libraries. The new subjects added to the List were based on those used in the Standard Catalog Series and on the catalog cards issued by the H.W. Wilson Company. Consequently, the original subtitle “Compiled from Lists used in Nine Representative Small Libraries” was dropped.

The sixth (1950), seventh (1954), and eighth (1959) editions were prepared by Bertha M. Frick. In recognition of the pioneering and fundamental contribution made by Minnie Sears the title was changed to Sears List of Subject Headings with the sixth edition. Since the List was being used by medium-sized libraries as well as small ones, the phrase “for Small Libraries” was deleted from the title. The symbols x and xx were substituted for the “Refer from (see ref.)” and “Refer from (see also ref.)” phrases to conform to the format adopted by the Library of Congress.

The ninth edition (1965), the first of four to be prepared by Barbara M. Westby, continued the policies of the earlier editions. With the eleventh edition, the “Practical Suggestions for the Beginner in Subject Heading Work” was retitled “Principles of The Sears List of Subject Headings” to emphasize “principles,” and a section dealing with nonbook materials was added.

The thirteenth edition (1986), prepared by Carmen Rovira and Caroline Reyes, was the first to take advantage of computer validation capabilities. It also responded to the changing theory in subject analysis occasioned by the development of online public access catalogs. This effort was taken further in the fourteenth edition (1991) under the editorship of Martha T. Mooney, who reduced the number of compound terms, simplified many subdivisions, and advanced the work of uninverting inverted headings.

In accord with a suggestion of the Cataloging of Children’s Materials Committee of the American Library Association, many of the headings from Subject Headings for Children’s Literature (Library of Congress) were incorporated into the thirteenth edition of Sears List. Since the Sears List is intended for both adult and juvenile collections, wherever the Library of Congress has two different headings for adult and juvenile approaches to a single subject, a choice of a single term was made for Sears. In cases where the Sears List uses the adult form, the cataloger of children’s materials may prefer to use the juvenile form found in Subject Headings for Children’s Literature.

In the fifteenth edition (1994), the first edited by Joseph Miller, the interval between publication of editions was shortened to provide a more timely updating of subject headings. In keeping with prevailing thinking in the field of library and information science, all remaining inverted headings were canceled in favor of the uninverted form. Likewise, the display of the List on the page was changed to conform to the NISO standards for thesauri approved in 1993. While Sears remains a list of subject headings and not a true thesaurus, it uses the labels BT, NT, RT, SA, and UF for broader terms, narrower terms, related terms, See Also, and Used for. A List of Canceled and Replacement Headings was added to facilitate the updating of catalogs. Also in the fifteenth edition many headings were added to enhance access to individual works of fiction, poetry, drama, and other imaginative works, such as films and radio and television programs, based on the Guidelines on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction, Drama, etc. prepared by a subcommittee of the Subject Analysis Committee of the ALA. These headings have since been updated in accordance with the Second edition of the Guidelines (2000).

In the sixteenth edition (1997) further instructions were added for the application of subdivisions, and the headings in the field of religion were extensively revised to reduce their exclusively Christian application and make them more useful for cataloging materials on other religions.

The major feature of the seventeenth edition (2000) was the revision of the headings for the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The headings Indians, Indians of North America, Indians of Mexico, etc., were cancelled in favor of ,b>Native Americans, which may be subdivided geographically by continent, region, country, state, or city. In further revisions in the seventeenth edition, many headings that formerly incorporated the word “modern” were simplified and clarified, such as Modern history and Modern art, and headings for various kinds of government policy were revised and regularized.

The eighteenth edition of the Sears List (2004) and the nineteenth edition (2007) saw the inclusion of many hundreds of new subject headings. The eighteenth edition included significant addition to the Principles of the Sears List regarding the treatment of individual works of fiction, drama, and poetry. The nineteenth edition features a major development of new headings in the areas of Islam and Graphic novels.

The twentieth edition of the Sears List (2007) was the last to be published under the auspices of the H. W. Wilson Company and with the editorial guidance of Joseph Miller. In 2011, the H. W. Wilson Company became a subsidiary of EBSCO Information Services, a research content provider based in Ipswich, MA that has provided databases, e-books, and e-journals to libraries of all types for almost thirty years. The Wilson offices located in the Bronx, NY were closed and all work on the Sears List transferred to EBSCO employees as of January 2012.

The twenty-first edition of the Sears List (2014) was the first to be published with the assistance of the Sears Advisory Board, which was convened with the goal of improving the accuracy, breadth, and inclusiveness of the Sears List. This collaborative group is comprised of public and school librarians, many of whom are actively working in their fields and have served on cataloging committees for the American Library Association, including the Cataloging of Children’s Materials Committee. Their inaugural meeting took place in June 2013 at the American Library Association Annual Conference.

Sears List of Subject Headings was acquired by Grey House Publishing in 2018. The twenty-third edition continues to incorporate the valuable feedback of the Sears Advisory Board and catalogers from around the world. Librarians can access the valuable data of the Sears List through the print edition or through the Sears List online database.


Grey House Publishing wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the contributions to this edition of the individual catalogers, reference librarians, and vendors of cataloging services who have offered suggestions for headings to be added to the List.

In particular, we would like to thank the Sears Advisory Board for their valuable contributions to this edition:

  • Bryan Baldus, Consulting Database Specialist, OCLC
  • Eric Bemiller, Systems Librarian, Chamberlain University
  • Lori Brennan, Supervisor, Digital Content Operations, Follett
  • Hannah Callahan, Librarian
  • Todd M. Grooten, Library Services Coordinator, Ruth Lilly Medical Library, IUPUI

Violet Fox, Editor of this edition, is a Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at Northwestern University and a 2013 graduate of the University of Washington iSchool. In addition to serving in cataloging positions at multiple academic libraries, she worked as one of the editors of the Dewey Decimal Classification from 2018 to 2020. We would like to extend our sincere thanks and gratitude for her work in organizing and updating this edition.

Every edition of the Sears List represents the work of many hands, especially those of the previous editors and assistants over the years. This year, thanks are due to Jessica Moody and Olivia Parsonson on the Grey House team for designing and updating the Sears List database that went into the creation of this book. The contributions of the users of the List have also been invaluable. Every comment, suggestion, question, or request from a user represents an opportunity for improvement and is greatly valued.

Grey House Publishing