Created by Minnie Earl Sears in 1923 as a more accessible version of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, the Sears List of Subject Headings has been providing a guide to subject access for small libraries ever since. It was first published by H.W. Wilson, and EBSCO took over editorial duties in 2011. Today, EBSCO publishes Sears both in print (via a partnership with Grey House Publishing) and as a searchable online database. The print editions are an invaluable resource that have the added advantage of being browseable and portable. The online database is updated once a year, and stays slightly more current than the print editions, which are published every four years.

The latest print edition, Sears’ 21st, was published in 2014 and has been well-received within the library community. Jean Weihs, a retired library science professor, writes in Technicalities (a journal pertaining to all things technical services), “I have written many times about the excellence of the ‘Principles of the Sears List of Subject Headings’. . . It is one of the reasons why all institutions that teach subject analysis and all libraries with untrained technical services staff should buy Sears 21, even if the library assigns Library of Congress subject headings.”

The subject headings within Sears are meant to correlate to the classification scheme used within the well-known Dewey Decimal System. This makes it easier for libraries to find the subject headings they can use to further classify their collection. Writer Tom Adamich says in Library Media Connection, “The combination of Sears and Dewey provides good contextual grouping for web-savvy users who are looking for a logical approach to putting similar materials together in a structured framework.”

In addition, the 21st edition also features more than 250 new subject headings, which are concentrated heavily in science, math, engineering and technology. We’ve also integrated the list of Canadian subject headings, eliminating the need for the supplement that was published previously. For the 22nd edition due in 2018, expanded genre headings in music and poetry are among the many updates.

M.P Satija, a Professor of Library Science at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, India, writes authoritatively about the new edition of Sears. In his latest article on Sears, he includes a glowing description of the new editorship:

“The new editor, Ms. Bristow, has been with the H.W. Wilson as indexer and associate editor of the Humanities Index and was also editor of the OmniFiles at Wilson. Currently she is Senior Taxonomist of the Taxonomy Team at EBSCO Information Services. A long-term colleague of the outgoing editor Dr. Miller, she was the associate editor of the Sears 19th edition (2007). During her tenure she also worked part-time in the Wilson Subject Authority Department and so is thus experienced in both indexing and subject headings work. No wonder she toes the line of the previous editor.”

We keep Sears up to date and relevant, resulting in its continuing success as a subject guide within school, religious, corporate and other small libraries. Adamich closes with, “In today’s changing K-12 school library landscape (where 21st century information discovery and digital resources are quickly becoming the norm), the Sears List of Subject Headings is one tool that can be at the forefront of information discovery and school library asset management workflow — the foundation of the information discovery process. Sears stands out as a proven, user-friendly solution to meet the challenges associated with information identification and utilization (in the context of subject heading/classification governance) today.”

For more information on Sears, please visit:

Works Cited:

Adamich, T. (2014, January/February). “The Sears List – An Old Friend with a 21st Century Look.” Library Media Connection, 43.

Intner, S. (2015). “Dollars and Sense: Coordinating Our Subject Tools.” Technicalities, 35 (4): 4-7.

Satija, M. P. (2015). “Brief Communication: The 21st Edition (2014) of the Sears List of Subject Headings: A Brief Introduction.” Knowledge Organization, 42: 187-189.

Weihs, J. (2015). “Book Reviews: Sears List of Subject Headings.” Technicalities, 35 (2): 18-19.