Metadata Input Guidelines: Subject

Element Name



The subjects or topics that succinctly describe the content of the resource.

Where Can the Subject Information be Found?

In many cases, the item must be read/examined to find subjects and keywords but they may come from:

Item Types Information Sources
For text
  • titles
  • abstracts
  • tables of contents
  • section/chapter headings
  • text
For images
  • bottom or back of a photograph
  • visible items (people surroundings, objects, etc.)
  • illustrations
For maps
  • statement in a caption
  • notes around the outside of the map
  • geographic area and time period of the map
For music scores
  • title page
  • table of contents
  • lyrics
For videos
  • label on disc
  • container cover
For sound files
  • information on disc/cassette
  • container information
For computer files
  • title page/screen
  • text of document

In some cases subjects may come from accompanying or supplementary information.

How Subject Works in the Metadata Form

1. Subject qualifier – drop-down menu
2. Subject – text field
Yes - to include multiple subjects, click ‘Add’ to repeat all field parts
Yes - two subject terms are required (more information)

How Should the Subject be Filled in?

General Subject/Keyword Rules

  • Information in the subject/keyword field should describe what the content is ‘about’
    • Subjects/keywords answer questions like: who, what, where, and when
  • Choose as many terms as necessary to capture subject content:
    • Two subjects are required, but an average of five subject/keyword entries is recommended (number varies depending on content)
    • Avoid terms too general to describe a particular item
    • Only include geographic subjects when the particular place is important to the subject content
    • The use of controlled vocabularies is not required (except UNTL-BS terms for items in the Portal)
  • Proper names can be subjects (including persons, places, titles, etc.)
  • Follow the general formatting rules for consistency:
    • Use appropriate capitalization, punctuation, etc. depending on the type of subject
    • Terms from controlled vocabularies must use the exact formatting prescribed by the source
    • Choose the appropriate subject type from the controlled vocabulary

Keywords and Phrases (KWD)

Formatting Keywords

Guideline Example
  • Add informal keywords as needed to help users locate the resource
  • It is not necessary to repeat terms from controlled vocabularies as keywords
  • Keywords should be lowercase
  • Only capitalize proper nouns

Girl Scouts of America
  • Use punctuation when applicable
  • If needed, include multiple versions with different spacing/punctuation
  • Do not add quotation marks to titles
long-range planning

man-made lakes
manmade lakes

Romeo and Juliet
  • Use plural forms of keywords
  • The singular form of a keyword can be used when there is no reasonable plural
  • If the keyword's plural is formed irregularly, the singular and plural forms can both be added as separate keywords

  • When referring to a company, organization, school, military installation, etc., the abbreviated version of the name can be used, but the full name must appear at least once in the record (preferably in the content description or as a keyword).
  • If it seems important, both the full name and abbreviated version(s) can be included as keywords
Description: Postcard of buildings at Ft. McIntosh.
Keyword: Fort McIntosh

University of North Texas
  • Prefer applicable controlled terms when they are readily-available (e.g., for more specific material information)
LCGFT: Portraits
Keyword: quarterly reports

Assigning Keywords

  • When assigning keywords, keep in mind that they should help users find the item you’re describing and also help the item be found with other, similar items.
  • Follow all formatting guidelines (e.g., make keywords lowercase and plural)
  • Here are some suggestions:
Guideline Instead of: Consider:
  • Keep keywords short; break up long, complex phrases
ACI service awards for Austin and Dallas airports Airport Council International


service awards

Austin, Texas

Dallas, Texas

  crude oil and petroleum products markets crude oil

oil products

petroleum products

fuel markets
  • Split up proper names and abbreviations/acronyms
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) National Environmental Policy Act

  • Remove unnecessary articles
  • Reorder words to create shorter phrases, when appropriate
disposal of waste waste disposal
  books in astronomy astronomy books
  • Every keyword should have a noun
horseback horseback riding

horseback riders
  • Add descriptors if the term is extremely vague
processing data processing

grain processing

water processing

financial processing

agricultural processing

Named Animals (namedAnimal)

  • If an identified pet or other animal is visible in a photo or a primary subject of a text, the name can be added as a “Named Animal”
Guideline Example
  • Include the name exactly as written/punctuated

Dox Happy Rx

Bit O'Man

Named Persons (named_person)

  • ‘Named persons’ refers to people who are significant in some way to the content of the item (see below for clarification)
  • Only include names as ‘named persons’ if a surname is known
  • If only a first name, first and middle names, or nickname is known:
    • Use the name in the content description (if relevant)
    • Use the name in the title (if relevant)
  • All names should have the same format:
Guideline Example
  • Invert the name (Last, First Middle)
Lott, Leanna Ivory
  • Use any known part of the name including initials if the full name is unknown
Thompson, J. D.
  • Include additional names as middle names
Williams, Mary Deline Xenia Buchanan
  • Names that are hyphenated or have multiple parts are all considered 'last names'
Smith-Jones, John

van Tyen, Jan
  • Use appropriate abbreviations:
    • Include known titles before the first name
    • Include known suffixes at the end of the name after a second comma
Steever, Col. Edgar Z.

Petersen, Mrs. P. J.

Stolte, Hugo C., Jr.
  • Nicknames can be included in parentheses
Wind, Ellis (Pee Wee)
Austin, Stephen F. (Stephen Fuller), 1793-1836
  • If a person is identified with both a married name and a prior name, include a separate named person entry for each surname
Buchanan, Menvil Mae
Seastrunk, Menvil Mae
  • If a person has an alternate name or alias, include their real name under 'named person' and aliases as keywords
Named Person: Cody, William Frederick
Keyword: Buffalo Bill

Should someone be a ‘named person’?

Named Person Not a Named Person
Person definitely identified in a photograph Person hesitantly identified (S. M. Garvin?) - keyword
Person not visible in the photograph - keyword
Statue or likeness of a person - keyword
Plaintiff or defendant in a court case Person mentioned once in a court transcript - not included
Person who is the subject of an entire or significant portion of a book Person mentioned in a paragraph or two of a book - not included
Author of an autobiography Author of texts not about themselves - creator/contributor
Author and addressee of a letter Person mentioned in passing in a letter - not included

UNT Libraries Browse Subjects (UNTL-BS)

  • UNTL-BS are used for records in The Portal to Texas History
  • For records about Portal objects, include at least one subject (preferably more) from the UNT Libraries Browse Structure
  • Choose as many appropriate terms as necessary from the UNTL-BS list
Guideline Example
  • Terms in UNT browse subjects are separated by a single dash and spaces (Term - Term)
Sports and Recreation - Riding - Bulls
  • For subject strings that have several levels, it is not necessary to include each part separately
  • Only use the most specific and relevant string(s)
Not: 'Social Life and Customs' and
'Social Life and Customs - Customs' and
'Social Life and Customs - Customs - Weddings'
Social Life and Customs - Customs - Weddings
  • Only use UNTL-BS terms starting with "Places" if the place itself is important to the subject of the item (e.g., maps, landscape photos, travel books)
  • Consider how place terms will overlap with coverage places:
    • For some items, a location associated with the item will be a coverage place but not a subject (e.g., portraits, event programs, etc.)
    • The UNTL-BS includes place names that cannot be used as coverage locations, such as (U.S. regions and historic locations)
Places - United States - Texas - Travis County - Austin

Places - United States - Midwestern Region

Places - Republic of Texas

Note: Additional subjects are added to the UNTL-BS whenever there are enough items to warrant it, so the number of subjects is consistently growing. If you would like to suggest a new subject, please notify Hannah Tarver (

Subjects from Other Established Thesauri or Controlled Vocabularies

  • The UNT Libraries schema supports a number of controlled vocabularies and encourages the use of any readily-available subjects (e.g., from established thesauri or discipline-related word lists) that would be helpful for users
  • Editors are never required to include terms from external controlled vocabularies
  • When included, the vocabulary used should be identified for each term
  • If the name of the controlled vocabulary is not in the list, choose “other” and notify the metadata administrators

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)

Guideline Example
  • Subject strings must be formulated and formatted according to Library of Congress rules
    • Terms in Library of Congress subjects are separated by a double dash (Term -- Term)
Bee culture -- Equipment and supplies

Fort Wolters (Tex.)

Capote, Truman, 1924-
  • If the resource has previously been described in a library catalog subject fields can be taken from the catalog record
  • Library records are generally good sources for ready-made subjects
Costume -- China -- History -- Ming-Qing dynasties, 1368-1912
  • Generally prefer terms that don't duplicate other information, e.g.:
    • Consider leaving out geographic subdivisions that match the coverage place
    • Use separate LCGFT terms rather than form subdivisions
LCSH: Texas. Department of Transportation
LCGFT: Periodicals
LCGFT: Annual reports

Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms (LCGFT)

Guideline Example
  • Subject terms must come from the official LCGFT thesaurus
  • Add one (or more) terms if they add more information
  • Do not add LCGFT terms that duplicate the resource type (e.g., Photographs or Postcards)

Greeting cards

Cadastral maps

Handbooks and manuals

Other Examples:

Navy pamphlet: The Texas Navy.
UNTL-BS: Military and Wars - Wars - Texas Revolution
UNTL-BS: Military and War - Transportation - Ships
LCSH: Texas – History, Naval
LCSH: Texas – History – Republic, 1836-1846
KWD: independence
KWD: battleships
KWD: schooners
KWD: naval vessels
KWD: Nimitz
Photograph: [Look-out Tower at Fort Davis]
LCSH: New Deal, 1933-1939
LCSH: Davis Mountain State Park (Tex.)
UNTL-BS: Architecture - Civil Works
UNTL-BS: Landscape and Nature - State and National Parks
KWD: Civilian Conservation Corps
KWD: overlooks
KWD: scenery
KWD: mountains
KWD: deserts
Photograph: Jim Goin and Mr. [Fred] Cummings. Ice delivery in Aubrey
UNTL-BS: People - Individuals
UNTL-BS: Business, Economics and Finance - Transportation - Automobiles
KWD: cars
KWD: wagons
named_person: Goin, Jim
named_person: Cummings, Mr. Fred
Letter to Cromwell Anson Jones, 19 May 1869
UNTL-BS: People - Individuals - Mary Jones
UNTL-BS: Social Life and Customs - Correspondence
LCSH: Jones, Mary Smith McCrory, 1819-1907
named_person: Jones, Cromwell Anson
Map of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway
UNTL-BS: Landscape and Nature - Geography and Maps
UNTL-BS: Business, Economics and Finance - Transportation - Railroads
LCSH: Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway
Texian Campaigne plate
UNTL-BS: Military and War - Wars - Mexican War
UNTL-BS: Social Life and Customs - Food and Cooking
UNTL-BS: Social Life and Customs - Furnishings - Dishes
NMC (Chenhall’s): Food T&E
NMC (Chenhall’s): Tools & Equipment for Materials
KWD: ceramics
KWD: plates
KWD: Texian Campaigne
Surgical Scalpel, 19th Century
UNTL-BS: Science and Technology
OTH: Devices, Medical
KWD: surgical knife
KWD: surgical knives
Thesis: An 8-step program: Shaping and fixed-time food delivery effects on several approximations and undesired responses in goats
LCSH: Clicker training (Animal training)
LCSH: Goats – Training
LCSH: Operant conditioning
KWD: shaping
Music score: Daisy: Opera in Two Acts
LCSH: Low, Juliette Gordon, 1860-1927 – Drama
LCSH: Girl Scouts
LCSH: Operas
LCGFT: Scores
KWD: Girl Scouts of America
KWD: music
KWD: conductors
KWD: voices
KWD: instruments
Photograph: [Portrait of Jessie Bogle Hubbard]
LCSH: Bogle family
UNTL-BS: People - Individuals
UNTL-BS: Social Life and Customs - Customs - Weddings
KWD: wedding dresses
LCGFT: Portraits
named_person: Bogle, Jessie
named_person: Hubbard, Jessie Bogle
Architectural Drawing: Elementary School Building, Fort Stockton, Texas: Ceiling Plans
LCSH: Public schools – Texas – Designs and plans.
UNTL-BS: Architecture - Buildings
UNTL-BS: Education - Schools - Buildings
AAT: elementary schools (buildings)
KWD: Fort Stockton Independent School District


  • Since the “subject and keywords” element may describe both what the object is about and the format in some cases, subject-related information may be repeated in other elements:
    • An image with a Resource Type “Photograph” could have a more specific subject term such as “cabinet cards,” “ambrotypes,” or “panoramic photos”
    • To describe a resource, such as an autobiography, that is about its creator, place the creator’s name in both the subject/keyword element and the Creator element.
    • Although geographic terms are normally handled by the Coverage (Place Name) element, subject fields could include geographic terms as well if the location is significant to the content.
  • When using an established controlled vocabulary, follow all rules related to scope and formatting
    • E.g., the scope for the LCGFT includes the following disciplines: moving images (films, television programs, and video recordings), spoken-word recorded sounds, legal materials, and cartographic materials


Resources for Selected Vocabularies:

Controlled Vocabulary UNTL Code Links to Resources
University of North Texas Libraries Browse Subjects UNTL-BS UNT Libraries Browse Subjects
Art and Architecture Thesaurus (Getty) AAT Art and Architecture Thesaurus
Library of Congress (LC) Vocabularies   Thesauri & Controlled Vocabularies
  • Legislative Subject Terms
LST Legislative Subject Terms
  • Library of Congress Subject Headings
  • LC Genre/Form Terms
  • LC Medium of Performance Thesaurus
Classification Web (Accessible to UNT staff/students)
  • LC Thesaurus for Graphic Materials
TGM Thesaurus for Graphic Materials

More Guidelines: