Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) Subject Headings are the North American standard for classifying subject information for your books. Your books + BISAC subjects codes = glorious discoverability. This evolving standard is based on the work done by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Subject Codes Committee of which BNC is a member. And we represent you, so there’s room for your involvement. The purpose of my post today is to give you some insight on how a Subject Heading is created and how you can help us create one for the subject below.
At our last Subject Codes Committee meeting (March 15, 2012), we discussed a request that was made to the committee to add a heading under FICTION that would refer specifically to Aboriginal literature. This would read as “FICTION / Aboriginal” in the Fiction Headings list. As you can imagine, gathering data to support and create a useful Subject Heading is impossible in a vacuum. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help us understand your need for such a classification and the form it should take.
Here’s what we need to consider to create a new classification for Aboriginal literature under FICTION:
In the Canadian constitution, the term “Aboriginal” refers to a those who come from a First Nations, Inuit, or Métis background. An Aboriginal Subject Heading would be used to describe the book content, not the ethnic background of the author. A book classified under this heading would be a work of fiction where the primary focus is on Aboriginal characters. A demonstrable need for a new Subject Heading is usually based on there being at least a hundred published titles out there that could be classified using the new heading.
A new heading also has to serve a North American focus, which means that we’re talking solely about Aboriginal literature as it pertains to the North American, specifically the Canadian, context. In this context, we need to understand how and where the subject metadata is going to be used. What search terms are North American readers likely to use to find Aboriginal literature? Is the use of the term “Aboriginal” sufficient if your audience is Canadian? Does this term translate if your audience is also American?
There are two subject codes that support the classification of Aboriginal books in the subjects below :
JUV030090 JUVENILE FICTION / People & Places / Canada / Native Canadian
JNF038120 JUVENILE NONFICTION / People & Places / Canada / Native Canadian
There are also many instances of Canadian publishers using the “Native American” classification found under the below headings to mark their Aboriginal books:
SOC021000 SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / Native American Studies
POE015000 POETRY / Native American
LIT004060 LITERARY CRITICISM / Native American
LCO013000 LITERARY COLLECTIONS / Native American
HIS028000 HISTORY / Native American
FOR031000 FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY / Native American Languages
CKB058000 COOKING / Regional & Ethnic / / Native American
BIO028000 BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Native Americans
ART041000 ART / Native American
There is currently no “Native American” classification in FICTION.
Here’s where things get complex. Consistency is hugely important when classifying content. The introduction of a new heading to FICTION would require us to address the current use of “Native Canadian”. We also need to bear in mind the current use of “Native American” for Canadian books in the non-fiction categories listed above. So our naming options for Aboriginal books under FICTION are:
- Use “Native Canadian”.
- Use “Aboriginal” and change other occurrences of “Native Canadian”.
- Use “Native American” to classify both Canadian and American books.
A note on the third option: although, technically speaking, Native American is defined as a person indigenous to the Americas, what consequences would a sole FICTION / Native American classification have on the discovery of Aboriginal books? If the answer is negative, then we would want to go with either 1 or 2.
The Big Questions
Having thought through the criteria, current usage, and naming issues, we’re left with two crucial questions to help us create a Subject Heading that works:
- Is there sufficient need—based on market data and usage feedback—to create a new heading for Aboriginal literature under FICTION?
- What do we name this new heading—Aboriginal, Native Canadian, Native American, or something else?
Once a new heading is decided upon, then the addition and alterations have to be approved by the BISG board to be included in the Subject List’s next iteration. This list typically gets updated once a year.
We need your feedback to help us create a standard classification for Aboriginal fiction.
We’d love to have your thoughts on this subject so leave us a comment below or email us. If you have other subject-related concerns that you’d like discussed at committee meetings, email us so that we can make it happen.