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To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 086-117-E
Division Number: IV
Professional Group: Classification and Indexing
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 117
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Problems of development of the national Russian subject authority file

Irina Tsvetkova &
Julia Selivanova

National Library of Russia
St Petersburg
Russian Federation


The report deals with the necessity for developing a National Subject Authority File in Russia. Basic approaches creating such a file creation are introduced. The history and main features of the National Library of Russia Subject Authority File are described. The report includes information on a number of projects being undertaken both in NLR and in Russia.


Problems of development of the National Russian Subject Authority File

In recent years Russian libraries have taken an active part in various regional, national and international projects and programmes concerned with questions of corporate cataloguing. The effectiveness of these projects and programmes is determined both by technical and software support, on the one hand, and by linguistic support, on the other hand. With regard to linguistic support, all common or compatible formats for data representation (bibliographic, authority, classification, etc.), as well as compatible means for subject access to that information are meant. We can say that in Russia the basic problems of representation and exchange of bibliographic and authority data are generally solved: Russian communication formats for bibliographic and authority data have been developed and are been inculcated. As for the second group of problems, i.e. the development of a compatible means for subject access, these problems remain to be resolved. There is a variety of types and kinds of subject access languages being in use by Russian libraries: UDC, LBC, different versions of subject heading languages (descriptor languages, etc.).

The most important problem for Russian libraries is the development of a common subject authority file and common subject indexing rules. The significance of this is determined by following: (1) subject headings language is closest to natural language and so is considered to be most convenient for the user, (2) subject headings language permits reaction to changes in the terminology and vocabulary of natural language more efficiently and effectively. A national subject headings file, once created could give all the Russian libraries the possibility:

  • To distribute their bibliographic records and re-use information accumulated by other libraries;
  • To create union catalogues on different levels;
  • To publish joint bibliographies together with other libraries;
  • To provide their users with unified access to information resources both in union catalogues and in other libraries.

An analysis of practices in the leading libraries of the world shows that we can speak about two main approaches to the development of national subject heading vocabularies and rules for subject indexing:

  • Development of original national subject authority files and rules for subject indexing (Germany, Finland, Poland);
  • Creation of national subject authority files on the basis of LCSH and adaptation of Manual for subject indexing of the Library of Congress.

Russian libraries have accumulated a rich experience in the field of theory and practice of subject indexing and subject catalogues. The first subject catalogues appeared in Russia at the end of the 17th century.

This experience could (and should) serve as a basis for development of an original national subject authority file. Such an approach will allow:

  • The maintenance of national traditions;
  • More effective and straightforward development, and less time- and effort-consuming than the adaptation of foreign lists of subject headings.

The problems of the development of a National Subject Authority File have been discussed at numerous conferences and seminars; in particular, the National Library of Russia holds annual seminars on the problems of the development of NSAF. these conferences have already become traditional. The resolution carried at the St Petersburg Seminar in 1998 states the role and significance of NLR as a central feature of national subject indexing. The decision was made to use NLR SAF as a basis for creating national SAF.

The first subject catalogue in NLR appeared in 1894, in the Philosophy Division of the Library. The history of the subject catalogue currently in use goes back to the end of the 1920s; at the same time as the creation of the list of subject headings (in card form). This list is an ancestor of the contemporary NLR SAF. By the end of 1990s the list of subject headings has evolved into a unique universal list of subject headings established and in use at the National Library of Russia (the former State Public Library), covering the main collections of NLR. It is significant that the list of subject headings was created for use in current cataloguing, and it was actualthe library collection which served as literary warrant for the headings.

In 1998 the list of subject headings was converted into machine-readable form. Currently, SAF includes more than a million headings in the following categories: personal and family names, corporate body names, geographical names, uniform titles, topical headings. In addition to subject headings the authority files includes "see" and "see also" references (the latter reflecting both hierarchical and associative relationships between headings), as well as notes, application instructions, associated LBC class numbers (first division) and other appropriate information.

The SAF is currently used in NLR for subject indexing of basic types of editions: monographs, collections, reference and bibliographic editions, periodicals and serials. p> NLR SAF is universal, its scope is the whole sphere of knowledge, various disciplines and fields of learning: natural sciences (biology, medicine, geology, geography, etc.); social sciences, economics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, techniques and technology, culture and arts.

SAF is dynamic; it is being updated regularly. About 12,000 new records are created annually. While processing new acquisitions cataloguers submit proposals on creating new headings or changing the existing ones. These proposals are considered by the Authority Control team on a regular basis. It is anticipated that later, when creating National Subject Authority File, proposals for new subject headings and references will be contributed not only by NLR cataloguers but also by other bibliographic institutions, which carry out subject indexing as well (similar to the practice of Library of Congress).

The National Subject Authority File is constructed in accordance with the local format for authority data and distributed in the Russian communication format for authorities. Both the local and the communication formats are based on UNIMARC/Authorities and are fully compatible with it.

The project ofor the development of NSAF is connected with a number of other significant projects currently underway. First of all, there is the project for creating a machine-readable current national bibliography. The project is supposed to be realized under the agreement between three leading universal libraries of Russia - National Library of Russia, Russian State Library and Russian Book Chamber.

Another project worth mentioning is the project aimed on establishing correspondence between two systems of subject headings, namely NLR subject headings and LCSH. Successful realization of the project will permit some kind of table of correspondence or matching headings between the two systems. Possible benefits of such tables are as follows: (1) in conditions of shared cataloguing libraries could abandon their own indexing; it could decrease labour-intensiveness and increase efficiency of work; (2) cataloguers while processing acquisitions could use various databases to get missing data; (3) it would be possible to provide subject access to multilingual data bases.

We believe that corresponding terms in the two subject systems could be matched through frequency analysis of the co-occurrence of terms used while indexing the documents. For such an approach to be realized all the documents of the database being analyzed should be indexed with terms from both systems. In 1995 NLR commenced the automated processing of foreign acquisitions. All the records newly created are indexed with NLR subject headings. In 1996 the decision was made to index the database records not only with NLR SH, but also with LCSH, these headings being taken from CIP data.

Currently the database includes 63,000 records. More than 3,000 of them include LSCH. This allowed us to undertake the pilot analysis the results of which showed that such method could actually be used for matching between the two systems. To get reliable data we need more than 1,500,000 records to be analyzed. Work on this project is currently in progress.


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