A Contribution to Subject Access in Libraries

LCSH Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1945
as revised in 2006

Canadian university libraries use the subject headings system designed and administered by the Library of Congress, Washington DC, United States, to help library users find books and other resources on topics they are interested in. Some libraries in places outside of North America also adopt this system of subject headings, in Hong Kong for instance. These Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH) are standardised terms or phrases designating various topics.

For example, if someone is searching for books about the role of Canada in the Second World War, the subject heading for this topic is “World War, 1939-1945 — Canada”.

Subject headings have to match the historical facts they represent. In my undergraduate days, I was very much perplexed, while using the library's card catalogue, by the subject heading used for the topic of the Sino-Japanese War that ended in 1945. The LCSH was “Sino-Japanese Conflict, 1937-1945”, which was being used in libraries for decades for books on the war. But those eight years were definitely war years for all the countries and peoples involved. They are not years of conflict. Moreover, China declared war on Japan on December 9 1941, subsequent to Pearl Harbour.

As a librarian, in 2006 I submitted to the Library of Congress a proposal to change its LCSH “Sino-Japanese Conflict, 1937-1945” to “Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1945”. The proposal was however turned down, on the grounds that not sufficient supporting bibliographical evidence and related citations had been included in the proposal, and also that I was not from a member library of the Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO) of the Library of Congress.

I am very grateful to Mr Jonathan David Makepeace, then librarian of the University of Windsor in Ontario and the representative of the Canada group of libraries in SACO, who promptly agreed to my request for help in preparing and submitting a more complete proposal for the change. This second attempt was eventually approved by the editorial committee of LCSH later in 2006. For this significant change, Mr Makepeace’s help was indispensable, as I so mentioned in my communication to the Council on East Asian Libraries about the initiative and the process of these efforts.

This recollection may serve to mark the 70th year after the ending of the Sino-Japanese War and the Second World War.

— Louis Chor 左永業
June 6th 2015