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Tulane University Digital Library Metadata Guidelines

These guidelines were approved by the Digital Production Review Committee in September 2019.

Basics about Subjects

General information about entering subjects into a spreadsheet:
  • Subjects are recommended, but not required.
  • Enter subject terms pertaining to the content of the resource into the "subject" columns. There should be separate subject columns for each type of subject used ("Subjects--topics", "Subjects--names", etc.). If multiple authorities are used, place terms into separate columns for each vocabulary list ("Subjects--topics--lcsh", "Subjects--topics--lcshac"). 
  • Multiple subject terms applied to the same object or cell must be separated with a semicolon and a space ("; ").
  • Compound subject terms should be broken into smaller individual subjects whenever possible, but if they are included, separate the phrases with two hyphens, not an em dash (--).


Controlled vocabulary for subjects:
  • Subjects are useful only when applied consistently, therefore the use of an established thesaurus is required. Consult with the collection administrator and metadata librarian about the proper established thesaurus to use for your collection needs.
  • For each collection, a list of subject terms should be drafted as part of the data dictionary before description begins and edited during the course of the project. 
  • The default authority attribute value for subject headings is LCSH, for name headings is LCNAF, and for genre headings is LCGFT. Please note if a different thesaurus is used or if terms are locally controlled.
  • All vocabularies should be ones that are listed in the Subject Heading and Term Source Codes.
  • If you cannot find a terms in the chosen thesaurus to describe the material, contact the metadata librarian. Terms can be created locally, but they must be recorded in the local database, and may be used as submissions to the relevant thesaurus through the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC).


Types of Subjects:

Each schema will have different options for describing types of subjects. These are some of the most common:

  • Topic: These are topical subject terms that the resource is about.
  • Name: These are names (personal, corporate, or family) associated with the resource’s content. [These are not names associated with the creation of the resource; those are covered in "Descriptive Metadata: Names"].
  • Geographic: These are geographical subject terms for the area depicted or described in the resource. This data correlates to “Coverage-Spatial” in Dublin Core. [These are not places associated with the creation of the resource; those are covered in "Descriptive Metadata: Publication and Creation."] However, the place a manuscript item was created will usually be a relevant geographic subject.
  • Temporal: These are temporal subject terms for the period of time depicted in the resource (correlates to “Coverage-Temporal” Dublin Core field). [This is not necessarily the same as the date the resource was created, but can overlap with the date of creation, especially in the case of manuscript items. For more information about dates, see "Descriptive Metadata: Publication and Creation."]
  • Genre: Enter terms that describe genres the resource is about. [These are not terms that the resource is, those are covered in "Descriptive Metadata: Format Information".]

Additional types of subjects may be recommended for certain types of objects. For example, cartographic materials may also require descriptions of their subject using hierarchical geographic information, coordinates, scale, or projection. If you think your needs may be met by using a different type of subject, or if you know what controlled vocabulary you want to use and are unsure of where it should be placed, contact the metadata librarian.

About Subjects in MODS

Commonly Used MODS Encoding for Subjects
  • Each subjects will be nested inside a unique top level element "subject".
  • Attributes of subject that will be used most frequently include: lang, authority, valueURI, and displayLabel
    • lang should indicate the language the nested subject is written in. It is not an indicator of the language of the resource or the record as a whole. Any time multiple languages are included in a record, it should be included for every subject. Use the language codes in ISO 639-2 to record the language in MODS.
    • authority should include the code from the Library of Congress Name and Title Authority Source Codes for the thesaurus in which that subject is found
    • valueURI should be present if that thesaurus contains Unique Resource identifiers for its entries
    • displayLabel is an optional element that can be used to distinguish types of subjects in the front-end display
  • Sub-elements of subject are available for topic, geographic, temporal, titleInfo, name, geographicCode, genre, hierarchicalGeographic, cartographics, occupation. All pieces of a compound subject should be contained in their own sub-element. Depending on the workflow used to transform the data into MODS, all sub-elements may be placed in topic to assist with batch processing, even when another sub-element would be more accurate. Ideally, compound subject will be avoided and subjects that reflect geographic subjects, temporal subjects, titles as subjects, names as subjects, genres as subjects, and occupations as subjects will have been placed in their own columns so that they can be processed into their relevant sub-elements in a batch process.

Examples of Subjects Encoded in MODS

Simple title included on object
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