Previous   Contents   Next
Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2007

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

[Board accepted]

Simplifying Property Data Subject Guides with Catalog Enhancements and New Technology

Carrie Newsom
Assistant University Librarian
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Jimmie Lundgren
Associate University Librarian
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Copyright 2007, Carrie Newsom and Jimmie Lundgren. Used with permission.


For years chemistry librarians have employed both dynamic (e.g., and static (e.g., {}) web pages to help users find property data in the library. Often these web pages replicate much of the information found in the library catalog. In an effort to reduce duplication and make property information easier to find we separated our property data web page into two separate components. First, we created a local form/genre subject heading for property data in the catalog and applied it to selected books from the collection thus taking advantage of the search capabilities of the catalog. Second, we redesigned the web page so it primarily links to online property information. Short instructions for finding print property information via the catalog are also included. This approach allows us to leverage the strengths of each medium.


Property data is a unique information need among scientists and engineers. It is initially published in the primary scientific literature, journal articles and patents. Often only a few properties per substance are reported in the literature, thus making it difficult to find multiple properties for a substance. Publishers have addressed this problem by compiling property data into handbooks, dictionaries, databases, and other reference materials that make it possible for scientists to search one source for multiple properties of a single substance.

Academic libraries own many of these print sources, each covering different properties. Typically these items are cataloged in a general manner. For example, the OCLC record for the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics includes the following subjects: "Chemistry -- Tables -- Periodicals" and "Physics -- Tables -- Periodicals." To supplement this general cataloging librarians create subject guides that indicate which properties are available in each source. These subject guides also include the call number and location of the item, duplicating much of the information in the catalog.

At the University of Florida our property data subject guide was one long list of properties with related books, databases and web sites. This list was difficult to navigate since links at the top of the page and scrolling were the only way to move between properties, and even more difficult to keep updated with changes in the collection. We wanted to remove references to print sources from our subject guide while keeping the value-added information the subject guide supplied. In the end, we decided to split the subject guide into two parts: a web page that lists only online sources and directions for finding print sources; and enhanced catalog records primarily for the print sources.

Property Data Catalog Enhancements

The library catalog provides access to a library's local collection. One main advantage of the catalog is the detail it provides about where items are located and their current circulation status (Calhoun 2006). In addition, cataloging enables precise and consistent retrieval of similar resources through the use of subject headings. The main problem with extracting catalog information and placing it into a web page is when information in the catalog changes, information in the web page does not automatically change. Most of the print sources listed on property data web pages are reference materials and cannot be checked out; however, there were several books on our page that are in the circulating collection. If a user checks out one of these books, someone looking at the property data web page will not know the status of the item and thus may waste time searching for the book. In addition, if a new edition of a property data source is bought or an old edition withdrawn, the web page is not automatically updated with this information.

In order to determine how the catalog could connect users to property data sources we examined the different fields available in catalog records where this information could be placed. The best option rested on considering property data sources to be a form or genre. Form/genre terms tell users what a work is based on the style, technique or functionality of the work (e.g., "Dictionaries") whereas topical subject terms tell users what a work is about. We are most familiar with seeing form/genre information as a form subfield at the end of subject terms. "Congresses," "Periodicals," and "Maps" are form subfield examples. This option was not available to us because the content of this subfield can only be used if the form term is included in Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). The closest term we found in the LCSH was "Tables." This term was already included in records for some of the sources, but it did not seem adequate for our purpose. In some cases the sources were not tables but databases and "Tables" failed to capture the specific concept of property data. "Handbooks, manuals, etc." was another form subfield that we examined but found inadequate. The authors intend to propose addition of a new form subfield in LCSH to address this need.

Fortunately, form or genre terms can also be entered in a separate field (MARC 21 field 655) which can be defined locally. This field was not frequently used in the past, but it does display with the label "Genre/form headings" and is retrievable in our catalog. We decided to enter "Property data" in the first subfield of this field in records for each of the property data sources and follow it with a subfield for the specific kind of property data. For example, the following field was entered in records of the property data sources containing information about activation energies: 655 7 $a Property data $x Activation energies $2 local

This allows users to enter a browse search for "subject" which will display a list of terms organized alphabetically by the name of the specific type of property data. In the University of Florida's catalog this search retrieves from any 6xx field, while specific subject searches are also available for LC subjects, MESH subjects, for this case, "subject, form/genre" and several others.

Figure 1: Listing of property types available in the catalog displayed via a browse "subject" search for "property data"

Keyword access is also available if a user knows the exact name of the property they are searching for via the "subject keywords" search.

Figure 2: Subject keyword search for property sources about activation energies

Entering the required data into the records was routine since extensive intellectual work identifying sources of property data and the specific type(s) of property data provided by each source was done during creation of the subject guide. With a little initial guidance from the cataloger the chemistry subject specialist entered the appropriate field(s) into records of more than one hundred valuable property data sources.

Property Data Web Page Enhancements

By providing an effective method for users to find print sources of property data we no longer needed to include each of them on the web page. Once the new form/genre subject heading was applied to each source we focused on creating a more web-friendly subject guide. The links in web sites are invaluable for navigating quickly through a variety of sources. In addition, the web is a medium that allows for enhanced information sharing (Berners-Lee 1998). Social bookmarking and other Web 2.0 technologies are continually enhancing the collaborative nature of the web. In order to take advantage of the linking ability and information sharing properties of the web we decided to limit the property data subject guide to online resources.

The first step was removing all references to print sources from the page. This left a long page of links and databases categorized by property -- still an unwieldy page to use. We wanted a page that contained a clickable list of properties which would take users to a listing of the best web site(s) for each property. Creating a separate web page for each property, of which there are over 50, would only increase the complexity and time needed to maintain the subject guide. Instead, we chose to use the social bookmarking site,, to manage the links. The chemistry librarian created an account ({}) and tagged each web site with the properties available on each site. For example, the NIST Reference for Conversion Factors of Energy Equivalents ( is tagged with "conversion-factors." In addition, we added a short description, usually taken from the site's own text, to the record for most sites. offers tagrolls as a way to display tags from your account on a web page. We created a tagroll for the chemistry librarian's account and included the Javascript provided to generate the tagroll on the subject guide. When the chemistry librarian adds a new site to the account users will see the site in the results without any web page maintenance. In a similar manner, when the chemistry librarian adds a new property to the listing the tagroll on the subject guide is automatically updated. To complete the guide we added short instructions for using the catalog to find property data sources and links to the most helpful subscription databases.


The redesigned subject guide and new form/genre heading have achieved our goal of not duplicating catalog information and creating a simpler property data subject guide. Making the subject guide easier to use benefits both patrons and staff. In addition, this project was the perfect opportunity to introduce reference staff to methods for finding property data. After the guide was posted the chemistry subject specialist held a staff training session to teach staff how to find property data using the catalog, the new subject guide and databases. All staff agreed that the new catalog enhancements make it easier for them to find property handbooks.

Moving the property data print sources from the subject guide and into the catalog made it necessary to create an additional workflow for new property data books. At the Marston Science Library all new books are available for subject specialists to review prior to being displayed on the new books shelf where they are available for patrons to check out. The books stay in this secure staging area, complete with a computer workstation, for one week before being transferred to the new books shelf. The chemistry subject specialist reviews the new books staging area each week to see if any books are valuable property data sources. If so, she adds the correct form/genre heading to the record for the book. In this way we are able to easily maintain and update the catalog to reflect additional property data sources.

The University of Florida Libraries catalog will soon have a new look and enhanced functionality after implementation of the Endeca search platform. We are not at the point of implementation, but it appears this system will make the property data fields much easier for users to interpret. A search whose results set includes any of the property data records will offer the option of limiting the search by genre "property data." When the records for individual property data sources are displayed, the complete field, including subfields for specific kinds of property data will be listed and can be searched by clicking on the field.

This approach offers users a choice of locating property data through web pages or through the catalog. However, since neither option currently gives patrons a comprehensive approach for finding all the property data sources available it falls short of ideal. To improve the comprehensiveness of catalog access to property data we are considering inserting the form/genre field into the records of the many web sources already in the catalog. Similarly, we have enhanced the web pages with an automated property data search. The search allows users to access a listing of all the property data fields available in the catalog via a single link. These enhancements will offer users two comprehensive ways to obtain the property data needed for their research.


Berners-Lee, T. 1998. The world wide web: A very short personal history. People of the W3C: Tim Berners-Lee. [Online]. Available: {} [December 5, 2006].

Calhoun, K. 2006. The changing nature of the catalog and its integration. Library of Congress: Cataloging. [Online]. Available: [December 5, 2006].

Previous   Contents   Next

W3C 4.0