Skip to Main Content



Librarians spend a lot of time selecting fictional materials but they rarely make them as readily available to patrons as non-fiction materials.

Steven Olderr quotes Robert Fulghum: Imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. He continues: We can't survive materially in our modern world without knowledge, history, and facts, but our souls still thrive on the ingredients of fiction: imagination, myth, and dreams.

Fictional works contain facts about real life. Some authors do a great deal of research and those facts are woven into the story.

Imaginative literature may be the only way some users may come to understand concepts, history, ways of life, etc.

Subject headings should be assigned to collocate fiction and non-fiction in the catalog.

In the dial-in environment that many users and libraries work in today or where reference librarians are unavailable to help, we can no longer rely on someone's memory or reading habits.

Service is part of the responsibility of the bibliographic control provider. According to Smiraglia, there are two different bibliographic domains: 1) descriptive  2) exploitative - ability to make the best use of a body of knowledge; provide for the understanding of the relationship of works

Not only does literature provide background to research, but it can also be just plain enjoyable.

From that basis of thought, the ALA Subject Analysis Committee began work in 1986 on determing how to assign subject headings to individual works of fiction. In 1989 they made their recommendation as a national standard and their recommendations are published in: Guidelines on subject access to individual works of fiction, drama, etc.

The goal is to provide subject access to individual works of fiction, drama, poetry, humor and folklore in all formats.

OCLC developed a project to test ways to accomplish this goal. They selected 8 libraries, 5 of them public libraries. The first library to start was San Joaquin Public Library in Nov. 1991. OCLC evaluated the libraries' work and passed it on to LC. All of the libraries participating in the project reported that they thought the project was worthwhile. By July 1, 1992, 2500 records had been enriched in the OCLC database. 

How to construct

The guidelines are intended to apply only to individual works of fiction, drama, poetry, humor, and folklore. For COLLECTIONS by one or several authors, or for literary criticism, consult the Library of Congress's Subject Cataloging Manual: Subject Headings Subject Manual.

H1430  Comics and comic characters 
H1610  Fictitious characters 
H1627  Folklore materials 
H1720  Legends and stores about animals 
H1780  Drama 
H1790  Fiction 
H1795  Legends and romances 
H1800  Poetry

Heading to include

The guidelines provided by the ALA Subject Analysis Committee specify:

  1. genre/form access
  2. access for characters or groups of characters
  3. access for setting
  4. topical access

1) Genre/form: this is to describe what the book (item) IS, not what the story is about

2) Character: provide character access to one character or a group of characters provided they appear prominently in three (3) or more different works. (Olderr suggests that if finding 3 works is too difficult, skip the character access since users are more likely to search genre, setting or topic)

3) Setting: when appropriate, bring out LOCATION and TIME PERIOD by means of subject headings

4) Topics: assign as many topical subject headings as necessary to bring out the topics covered as determined by a superficial review of the publication in hand. Do not attempt to discern topics which have not been made explicit by the author or publisher, or which could be interpreted as making value judgments.

Form / Genre

The list of form/genre headings in the Guidelines is compiled mostly from LCSH, but do not necessarily follow LC's rules of application. Some headings are not LCSH headings and should not be treated as such; they are footnoted.


  Adult films 
   USE Erotic films 
  Adventure films 
   Used for Suspense films 
    NT Detective and mystery films 
     Science fiction films 
     Science fiction television programs 
     Spy films 
     Spy television programs 
     Western films 
     Westerns (Television programs) 
    RT Adventure television programs 
  Adventure radio programs 
  Adventure stories 
   Used for Suspense novels 
    NT Detective and mystery stories 
     Picaresque literature 
     Romantic suspense novels 
     Science fiction 
     Spy stories 
     Western stories


Qualify as follows: 
   (Fictitious character) 
   (Legendary character) 
   ([nationality] deity)     eg. Greek deity 
   ([nationality] mythology  eg. Greek mythology

Make more specific qualifiers if ambiguous or to resolve a conflict. 
  eg. Thor (Cartoon character) 
  eg. Thor (Norse deity)

Add form divisions from list designed to be used with names of characters:

Art Juvenile drama Operas*
Caricatures and cartoons Juvenile fiction Pictorial works
Comic books, strips, etc. Juvenile films Poetry
Computer files Juvenile humor Posters
Drama Juvenile poetry Romances
Fiction Juvenile sound recordings Sermons
Folklore Legends Slides
Humor Musicals* Songs and music

* Subdivisions not yet in LCSH. If one of these is used, the resultant heading should be placed in a 690 field in the MARC format.

Verify the heading in descending order of preference:

  • a) consult LCSH; OCLC online authority
  • b) Hennepin County (Minnesota) Public Library authority file
  • c) follow AACR2, chpt. 22-24, to determine forms of name for fictitious persons with terms of nobility,
  • corporate bodies with subdivisions, and other such special problems
  • d) create according to the following:

Character with surname. Establish in inverted form all characters whose names include a surname. Add as a final element of the name any titles of address associated with the name. 
   EXAMPLES:  Boop, Betty (Fictitious character) 
        Bunyan, Paul (Legendary character) 
        Wimsey, Peter, Lord (Fictitious character)

Character with forename or nickname.  Establish a character known by the forename only or by nickname directly under that name. Add an appropriate parenthetical qualifier from the same list as for characters with surnames. 
   EXAMPLES:  Little Orphan Annie (Fictitious character) 
        John Henry (Legendary character) 
        Aphrodite (Greek deity)

Named groups of characters.  Establish named groups of fictitious or legendary characters according to the same pattern as individual characters. Use plural parenthetical qualifiers. 
   EXAMPLES:  Hardy Boys (Fictitious characters) 
        Sartoris family (Fictitious characters) 
        Muses (Greek mythology)

Corporate bodies.  Establish fictitious corporate bodies using the parenthetical qualifier (Imaginary corporation) 
   EXAMPLES:  Great Britain. Circumlocution Office (Imaginary organization)

References.  Make UF (see) references from other names by which the character or group may be known, including uninverted forms for characters entered under surname. 
   EXAMPLES:  Shadow (Fictitious character) 
     UF  Cranston, Lamont (Fictitious character) 
         Lamont Cranston (Fictitious character) 
         The Shadow (Fictitious character)

Make BT (broader term, see also) references from the appropriate medium to which the character is related.  For literary characters, make a BT reference from Characters and characteristics in literature. 
   EXAMPLES:  Snoopy (Fictitious character) 
     BT  Comic books, strips, etc. 
        Pantaloon (Fictitious character) 
     BT Commedia dell'arte 
        Cock Robin (Fictitious character) 
     BT Characters and characteristics in literature

Real persons.  Assign headings for real persons which appear as characters in individual works of fiction, drama, poetry, humor, folklore, and music. Follow LC practice with appropriate subdivision. However, if the person is best known as a literary author, use: [Name], in fiction, drama, poetry, etc. 
   EXAMPLES:  Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Juvenile drama. 
           Noah (Biblical figure)--Drama.


For real places:

Assign as found in name authority file

Add form subdivisions from this list:

Drama Juvenile drama Juvenile poetry
Fiction Juvenile fiction Juvenile sound recordings
Folklore Juvenile films Legends
Humor Juvenile humor Poetry

For fictitious places which appear in at least three (3) different works. 

Verify the heading in descending order of preference:

  • a) consult LCSH; OCLC online authority
  • b) Hennepin County (Minnesota) Public Library authority file
  • c) other sources:
    1. if the name varies, consult other works featuring the place
    2. consult reference works to determine the most commonly used form
    3. prefer English form, or if none, use form found in English language reference sources
    4. if not found in reference sources, use item in hand
    5. use AACR2's Chpt. 23 for political jurisdictions or LC's Subject Cataloging Manual: Subject Headings to determine form in which the heading should be  established

Add qualifier (Imaginary place)

Topical access

 Use subject headings according to normal practice to bring out obvious topics covered.

 Add subdivisions to each topical heading from list:

Drama Juvenile drama Juvenile poetry
Fiction Juvenile fiction Juvenile sound recordings
Folklore Juvenile films Legends
Humor Juvenile humor Poetry

If Olderr's Fiction Subject Headings is used, the subdivision --FICTION should follow most headings.

Assign headings that readily come to mind.

Although much of the above refers to LCSH, in the use of subject headings according to other subject systems' standards for topical access are certainly appropriate.

Determining Sources



List in descending order of resources to use in assigning subject access  points: 
Library of Congress Subject Headings   (LCSH)

Subject Cataloging Manual: Subject Headings

Guidelines on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction, Drama, etc. 
      It was adopted by ALA. It makes recommendations as to which types of headings should be included with individual works of fiction, drama etc. Olderr deals only with fiction. Where LCSH and Subject Cataloging manual indicate "do not use for individual works of fiction...", if the Guidelines provide for usage, follow the Guidelines which usually means include the heading for a single work. These are entered as 650's. Headings used as form/genre headings that are not valid LCSH subject headings but are listed in the Guidelines, should be entered as 655 -7    #2 gsafd. If a form/genre heading can't be found in the Guidelines but an appropriate term is in LCSH, it can be used as a form/genre heading by entering as 655 -7 #2 LCSH

Olderr's Fiction Subject Headings* 
   To provide guidance in choice of headings for fiction, Olderr has included extensive scope notes, however, it is limited to aspects of LCSH headings as they relate to fiction so one should consult LCSH and the Subject Cataloging Manual as the primary resource. It consists of headings to which --FICTION should usually be added. The book does indicate when the heading is not LCSH. At this time they must be entered as 690's. In the event that Olderr is added to the Codes list, they could be entered in 655 -7 #2 ____

Assign subject headings to every book (item), good or bad, based on  Guidelines, LCSH, Subject Cataloging Manual, Olderr's.

  1. genre/form - each item should have this type of heading assigned
  2. character - assign if readily determined. Since it must be found in 3 works and UND does not purchase high numbers of fiction works, this may be difficult to determine. Utilize OCLC's authority files, ODIN's online resources, and local reference works. If not located easily, disregard.
  3. setting - location and/or time period as appropriate
  4. topical - assign headings that may easily be determined by a quick review of the item. Assign 1 or 2 such headings; do not assign more than 3.

Add summary field (520) selectively. 
  It is particularly useful in bringing out words not found in thesauri, and therefore not used in subject headings.  Also text allows for the stringing together of words to better convey concepts. It can also include "minor" words that are descriptive, outdated, foreign, slang, exotic, geographic, historical, etc. Use when the standard access described above is very inadequate or the nature of the item would be confusing without a summary note.

*There are other works by Olderr that may also be of interest.

How to add to OCLC

Review the record before beginning work to determine if it can be locked and replaced. See OCLC Record Upgrade

1) Form/genre:

Genre or form headings are input in tag 655 with second indicator 7 and with a following #2 [codename] indicating the source for the heading.

Genre or form headings may be listed in LCSH but are listed there for books ABOUT the topic and when that is how the listed term is being used it is  input in tag 650 _0.

Genre or form headings used to describe what kind of fiction, drama, etc. the item IS, even when found in LCSH are input in tag 655 _7 with #2.

   LSCH  = lcsh 
   Guidelines  = gsafd

  EXAMPLES:  655 _7  Didactic poetry. #2 lcsh 
       655 _7  Epic films. #2 gsafd

2) Characters:

 If the name is found in LCSH or OCLC online authority, use 600-61X tags as  appropriate.

 If not found in LCSH or OCLC online authority, use tag 690.

3) Setting:

 If the place is found in LCSH or OCLC online authority, use 610-651 tags  as appropriate.

 If not found in LCSH or OCLC online authority, use tag 691.

4) Topics:

 If the topic is found in LCSH or OCLC online authority, use 600-650 tags  as appropriate.

 If not found in LCSH or OCLC online authority, use tag 690.

Editing OCLC records

Any library can lock and fix a 300 tag that is in CIP format.

Any library can lock and add a 6XX (not 69X) tag if that tag type is not already there. (This is also based on your profile with OCLC). 
EXAMPLES: If no 655 is present, you may add 655. 
    If no 651 is present, you may 651. 
   But, if a 650 is present, you may not add another 650.

During this process, you cannot add any local data fields or make changes to other fields. You must lock the record, make only the kinds of changes mentioned above, and replace the record. Follow this with Reformat, make further changes such as additional tags that could not be added and local information, and update or produce.


 They decided to follow Guidelines on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction, Drama, etc. 
 They decided to assign no more than five topic headings. 
 They decided to use 520 summary notes whenever possible.

St. Louis, Mo. Public Library 
 Found the procedures to be fairly time consuming, but worth it in demonstrated increased circulation. 
 Made a team of two people to work on the project. There are two aspects to the work: 1) assigning or creating subjects and doing the authority work (they filled out LC authority forms) and 2) keying or locking, keying, and replacing OCLC records and making changes in their local system.  If they could upgrade on OCLC, they did it there with lock and replace. If the tag duplicated, they could only upgrade their local system. 
 They used the Guidelines and Olderr's books. 
 They assigned genre to nearly every record, at least one topical heading and usually a geographic heading. 
 They decided not to do 520 summary note fields.


American Library Association. Subject Analysis Committee. Subcommittee on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction, Drama, etc. Guidlines on subject access to individual works of fiction, drama, etc. Chicago: American Library Association, 1990.

American Library Association. Subcommittee on the Revision of the Guidelines on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction. Guidelines on subject access to individual works of fiction, drama, etc. 2nd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000.

Olderr, Steven. Olderr's fiction subject headings: a supplement and guide to the LC thesaurus.   Chicago: American Library Association, 1991.