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Updates to the BISAC Subject Headings

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PUBLISHED JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019

by Connie Harbison, Director of Quality Assurance at Baker & Taylor and Chairman of the BISAC Subject Comittee —


Connie Harbison

The 2018 edition brings 210 new headings, 90 literal changes, one reactivation, and eight inactivations.

Near the end of every year, while many are looking forward to cooler weather and changing leaves, the book industry is looking forward to the new edition of the BISAC subject headings. This past fall, the 2018 Edition of BISAC was released.

The BISAC Subject Committee, a standing committee within the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), has been hard at work on this new edition since October 2017. As we do at the start of every new edition, the committee considered which top level subjects have not been thoroughly reviewed in the past several editions. We determined that Bibles, Health & Fitness, Language Arts & Disciplines, Medical, and Religion were among those that we had not reviewed in full in a number of years. In addition, we reviewed and discussed each and every suggestion that was submitted by non-committee members.

The 2018 edition brings 210 new headings, 90 literal changes, one reactivation, and eight inactivations. Twenty-three of the 53 total major sections had at least one addition, change to a coded literal, or inactivation. Twenty-one sections had at least one heading added.

The section with the most new headings added is the Bibles section. The committee discussed this section in depth; representatives from numerous Christian publishers—including Crossway, HarperCollins Christian, Lifeway, and Tyndale—participated in our meetings and provided significant contributions to the changes made. As a result, four third-level subheadings—Dramatized, Journaling, Outreach, and Reading—were added to each translation. In addition, new trees were added for Nueva Traduccion Viviente and Other Non-English Translations. These changes are the first significant changes that have been made to the Bibles section since its creation in 2007.

The Religion section also underwent significant changes, with 17 new headings added and 24 literal changes. Both the Biblical Commentary and Biblical Studies trees were expanded and made into four level trees with third level branches for both the Old and New Testaments. In addition, the second level term Christian Life was updated to Christian Living for 16 existing literals. Some of the new headings in the Religion section include: Biblical Commentary / New Testament / Jesus, the Gospels & Acts and Christian Living / Personal Memoirs.

The committee had not revisited the Juvenile Fiction and Juvenile Nonfiction sections since the introduction of the Young Adult sections in 2015. For this new edition, we reviewed both of those sections to determine which headings were not being used as a result of the presence of the YA headings and what headings needed to be added or revised to better reflect the climate of the children’s book industry. As a result, 23 new headings were added to these sections and 24 literals were changed. While we did have the usual additions to the Animal tree for those animals that deserved their one heading (based on the number of titles being published, of course), including Penguins and Turtles, we also added and changed headings so that users could more easily identify those titles currently in demand. Added headings include Biography & Autobiography / LGBT (in the JNF section), Diversity & Multicultural (in both JUV and JNF), and Social Activism & Volunteering (in the JNF section). Literal changes included changing Social Topics / Special Needs to Disabilities & Special Needs (outside of the Social Topics tree) and changing Computers / Programming to Computers / Coding & Programming.

Though there was no doctor in the House (i.e., Random House, where most of our meetings are held), those committee members with a scientific or medical division of their company provided valuable feedback for updating the Medical section. In this section, we made 18 additions and four literal changes. The committee reviewed those headings with a General tertiary heading to determine which ones need to be expanded. As a result, the subjects of Oncology and Surgery had a number of more specific headings added. Prior to this edition, Oncology was a standalone heading; the committee created an Oncology tree with specific branches such as Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer, and Pediatric. The existing Surgery tree was expanded to now include Abdominal, Eye, and Orthopedic.

As I write this article, perhaps I should be referring to books that would be coded with the newly created Language Arts & Disciplines / Writing / Nonfiction (incl. Memoirs). Yes, a Writing tree has been added to Language Arts & Disciplines. This section underwent some minor revisions with seven new headings added, six literal changes, and two inactivations. While most of these changes involve the creation of the Writing tree, some literal changes were made to accommodate the types of titles that users were assigning the heading to. For example, Public Speaking has been changed to Public Speaking & Speech Writing; Speech has been changed to Speech & Pronunciation; and Vocabulary has been changed to Spelling & Vocabulary.

No new edition of BISAC would be complete without a huge expansion to the Fiction section. For this edition, we added 28 cross-references to help made the section less unwieldy to users to the Word or online version of the headings (cross-references do not appear in the Excel version). These will help direct you to Fiction / African American / Historical if you are trying to find Fiction / Historical / African American. We also added 11 new Fiction headings and made five literal changes. The subject matter of the new headings runs the gamut from Christian / Biblical to Erotica / LGBT / Transgender to Romance / Paranormal / Witches. It is hard to believe that fiction titles are being published in genres the BISAC subjects don’t cover.

In addition to those I described in detail, other sections that users can find additions and changes to include Crafts & Hobbies, Health & Fitness, House & Home, Social Science, and Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction. BISG officially released the 2018 Edition of the BISAC Subjects in early November. The BISAC Subject Committee started working on the 2019 Edition in October of 2018.


If you are a BISG member and interested in being involved with the Subject Committee, please contact Connie Harbison at connie.harbison@baker-taylor.com. Just have a suggestion for an addition of change to the list? Submit it here.


Connie Harbison has been involved in the book industry for almost 30 years, starting as a trade book buyer in one of Barnes & Noble’s college bookstores. She was with RR Bowker for 13 years, working with data integration and quality. For the past 13 years, Connie has worked as director of quality assurance for Baker & Taylor. She has served as chairman of the BISAC Subject Committee for the past 14 years. Connie holds a BA and MA in English literature from The Catholic University of America and an MLS degree from Rutgers University.


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