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Researching Labor Unions at NYPL: Browsing by Industry

Library of Congress Subject Headings in the Catalog

If you are interested in the workers of a particular industry and want to view all our materials related to that industry’s trade unions, Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) can be helpful. These are standardized terms that cataloguers use to categorize materials in their collections. They typically include multiple levels, with each level becoming more specific or further limiting a search by geography.

It can be difficult to browse by LCSH if you do not already have one in mind. Although all LCSH use standardized words and phrases, these phrases sometimes appear in different combinations, making them difficult to predict. The standardized language used in the LCSH may also not match how you would refer to an industry colloquially, or how the union would refer to itself.

Still, doing a keyword search using your own words can be helpful. Let's say we did a search for "garment worker unions" and then clicked on an item that looked relevant. Looking in the "Details" tab, as shown in the screenshot below, will show you which subject headings the item is catalogued under. Even though the union name refers to garment workers, the LCSH standard term appears to be clothing workers. Click on any subject heading to see more items with the same heading.

Screenshot of the catalog record for the Ladies' Garment Worker, the ILGWU organ

Common Subject Heading Formats

This list is not exhaustive, but many relevant subject headings will fall under the following formats:

[Industry or workplace] -- Employees -- Labor unions -- [Place optional]

e.g. Food Industry and Trade -- Employees -- Labor unions

e.g. Hospitals -- Employees -- Labor unions

[Type of worker] -- Labor unions -- [Place optional]

e.g. Baseball players -- Labor Unions

Collective labor agreements -- [Industry or type of worker] -- [Place optional] 

e.g. Collective Labor Agreements -- Automobile Industry

e.g. Collective Labor Agreements -- Confectioners -- Pennsylvania

Labor contracts, [type of worker, possessive form] -- [Place optional] 

e.g. Labor Contracts, Radio workers' -- United States

Labor unions -- [Type of worker] -- [Place optional]

e.g. Labor unions -- Clothing workers (compare to Clothing workers -- Labor unions)

Add a place to narrow your search. Likewise, adding -- Periodicals to the end of some searches can be helpful, especially for finding publications created by specific unions.

You can search by subject in either the Legacy Catalog or the Research Catalog, but a successful search in the Legacy Catalog requires that you know the full subject heading (i.e. you cannot search "Hospitals -- Labor Unions" and be directed to "Hospitals -- Employees -- Labor Unions.") For this reason, I recommend using the Research Catalog's Subject Heading Explorer. You can also do a search for "Labor Unions" to see all the subject headings containing the phrase.

                Message from Boot and Shoe Workers' Union

Ad in The Garment Worker urging readers to wear union-made shoes, accessed via HathiTrust

A Few Helpful Lists from the Library of Congress

Cataloging Service Bulletin 086, Fall 1999

The Library of Congress made several changes to their authorized terms for trade union-related subject headings in 1999 and published a list advising catalogers of this and other changes. This is a technical document not intended for the general public, but for the labor history researcher it can also function as a list of subject headings to use. The left-hand column lists headings that have been "cancelled" and the right-hand column lists the newly approved term. For example, "Trade Unions -- Diamond Cutters" became "Diamond Cutters -- Labor Unions."

Our online catalog will generally use the "new" headings, but if you are using the black books and want to browse by heading, try looking at this list for the pre-1999 term first.

Library of Congress Subject Headings Weekly List 26 (June 30, 1999)

Even more than the above, this list's use of numbers and abbreviations is confusing to the non-cataloguer, but the list of terms is helpful. "UF" stands for "use for," meaning that the term at the top of the list should be used instead of the "UF" term. Some of the headings that appear on this list don't appear on the above and could be helpful to plug into the Subject Heading Explorer.