One Letter for Subject Codes?

5 months 2 weeks ago #1633 by dmalosh

I'm going to ask my simple question via the forum in case others are wondering the same; future inquires could be directed to this post...

Can we use a single character for a subject code?  Is that possible? 

Might it be unwise to do so for the sake of querying?  (Then again, would could query with the Full Description text. right?)

I've been contemplating ways I can reduce the number of keystrokes for cataloging.  Could Westerns be just "W", Romances "R", and Mysteries "M"?  In Minnesota, we currently employ "WES", "ROM" and "MYS" respectively.

(The impetus for this question is I want to try to make our subjects the first letter of each word within the Full Desc so it's more intuitive to staff who don't live and breath subject codes all day.  I've been wondering if I could get away with "DF" for Domestic Fiction and "GF " for General Fiction.  We're currently employing "DOF" and "GFI" but I don't know why there seems to be a preference for 3-letter codes. It has me wondering how short can we go with codes...?)

-Dan in Minnesota

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5 months 1 week ago #1634 by patrick20k
Interesting question... I think it's mostly about consistency, and not needing to remember which subjects are two letters and which are three. Not to mention just providing enough letter combinations to cover all current and future subjects.

There are some two-letter subject codes Katharina sees frequently: AD (Adult books), YA (Young adult), MN (Male narrator), FN (Female narrator), GN (Group narration), NF and FI (nonfiction and fiction).

I'll point out that those are all more audience notes than actual subjects, which could make it easier to remember that they're a "non-standard" length. But there shouldn't be any programmatic reason you can't use shorter (or longer) subject codes for actual subjects (like Domestic Fiction). None of the subject mapping for incoming MARC records relies on subject codes, only the descriptions.

That said, I'm not sure that shorter subject codes (especially one-letter ones) will really save time in the end. Adding a subject on the title-bib is certainly faster with a one letter code but the chance of typos increases too--entering a W instead of an M will add a completely different subject, while entering WYS instead of MYS is unlikely to accidentally match another subject.

Meanwhile, the subject lookup window (used for tasks like adding a preference to a patron or changing a heading from a query set) sorts by the full desc and not the code. When the code is MYS, entering that will get you mysteries in the lookup... but if the code is M, you'll get male narrator, mathematics, medicine, and any other subjects starting with M and ahead of mysteries alphabetically.

In short, you shouldn't break anything by shortening subject codes, but what helps you could make things take longer for someone else, and those who don't live and breathe subject cataloging are probably better served with a good cheat sheet than with changing codes.

If you (or someone reading this) does decide to change a few codes, remember to first sort your Headings Maintenance by code and triple-check that something else isn't already using the new code you have in mind. I'd also encourage you to loop us in, just in case.
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5 months 1 week ago #1635 by massbibliophile
One problem: there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, so that does limit your options.
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5 months 1 week ago #1636 by dmalosh
Thanks, Katy. I like to know the technical parameters before I dare to dream and scheme. It's good to know that I could (theoretically) use a one-letter code. But I'm glad you pointed out the process of adding patron preferences would be very bad. I think that alone settles it for me. I suspected there was a process elsewhere that relied more heavily on codes.

To be clear, my inquiry was more a question of consistency within the 5-character limitation rather than a concern over keystrokes. (Although with the current cataloging crisis, limiting keystrokes is no joke.) What I failed to point out is how it would have been nicer for the subcategories for the broader subjects, like my library's "Romance - Regency" has a code "ROMR". Could we get away with "RR" if "Romance" is just "R"? Or, our "Science Fiction - Space Stories" subject whose current code is "SCFSS" because "Science Fiction" is "SCF" I feel it necessary to carry the 'parent's' code on to its 'children' subjects. I know that moving Science Fiction's code to "SF" is only saving one character, but my hope/goal is to find consistency that's as short as possible.

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5 months 1 week ago #1637 by dmalosh
I was hoping to deflate your argument, James. But I couldn't. :-(

I taped up my glasses, got out my pocket protector, and Googled for an Excel formula that would count the number of spaces in each subject's Full Desc column.

For those who might be interested the formula I used was:

Of our 841 subjects, I came up with 35 single-word subjects. I whittled out the subjects with hyphens. Close but not close enough to make it tempting. Needless to say, several letters have 3 or more subjects that would have created issues.

I got to "Careers", "Civilization" and "Classics" and I said "James is right. I'm not going to ask him to pick-up the mic he dropped." :-) However, "Romance" didn't have any competition in the R's. And "Westerns" only needed to contend with "Writing". Just saying...

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