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Cataloging and Metadata Management: Using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH®) in Cataloging

Module 4— Descriptors: Selecting the Main Concept(s)


  • MeSH descriptors represent the subject content

  • Search in the MeSH Browser concepts you have identified as the major topics, and see if you can find the descriptor used by MeSH for that concept

  • Assign subject headings that accurately and completely describe the item, without redundancy. Use the most specific headings available, but if more than three needed specific descriptors are in the same tree, use the broader descriptor

  • In general, only assign subject headings for concepts that cover at least 20% of the work being cataloged. The maximum number of subjects assigned rarely exceeds 6-7 terms
    • Example: In a book of 35 chapters, do not assign subjects that only apply to a single chapter

  • Where relevant, assign descriptors for the appropriate disease, organ or system

  • Assign descriptors for appropriate age groups if particularly discussed

  • Distinguish between the specialty and the disease
    • Cardiology is for works about the field or profession
    • Heart Diseases is for works about the disease


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Last Reviewed: June 8, 2017