The Sears List of Subject Headings: Social and Cultural Dimensions in Historical, Theoretical, and Design Contexts


  • Chris Holstrom University of Washington



The Sears List of Subject Headings was first published in 1923 to provide guidance to subject catalogers in small libraries in the United States. The Sears List, now in its 22nd edition, is still widely used for subject cataloging in small- and medium-sized libraries and in children’s and school libraries, but the Sears List is not nearly as widely studied as the more comprehensive Library of Congress Subject Headings. This paper aims to expand the critical discussion of the Sears List and to contextualize the List in contemporary cultural and social dimensions by reviewing its history, theory, and design. The paper looks specifically at how Black people and culture, Indigenous peoples and cultures, and LGBTQ+ people and cultures are represented in the Sears List throughout its history and how warrant, design, and theory inform this representation.