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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498B: The US in the Bad Neighbor Era

Library Catalogs

What is a Library Catalog?

A library catalog is a database of records that identify and describe resources owned by the library. Most of these records describe published resources like books, but many library catalogs also contain records for archival materials. Use the catalog to find both print sources and digitized sources in the Library's collections.

Note: Library catalogs do not contain article-level information for journals: in other words, you can use the library catalog to determine whether or not the library has access to a specific journal or to journals by broad subject, but not to find articles within journals.

The purpose and functions of library catalogs are in fact very basic:

  1. The catalog should be an efficient instrument for ascertaining:
    • Whether the library owns a particular work specified by its title;
    • Whether the library owns a particular work specified by its author;
    • Which works by a particular author are in the library;
    • Which editions of a particular work are in the library.*
  2. The catalog should collocate (bring together) records for works on a common subject under a single, standardized heading.

Digitization of library catalogs has made it possible to perform keyword searches on the records in the catalog. Aside from this innovation, and a few other conveniences, the library catalogs of today are essentially identical (in function) to library catalogs created a hundred years ago.

Some research libraries today have moved away from traditional library catalogs to implement something called a library discovery system (or service or layer). Library discovery systems aim to provide a single search engine for all content held by, or accessible to, a library, including article-level content.

A discovery system can be a powerful tool for quick access to content from a broad spectrum of resources held by the Library, but it sacrifices useful aspects of the search interfaces used in the library catalog and subject-specific article databases.

Our library uses EasySearch as a discovery system, while maintaining a separate library catalog and access to subject-specific article databases. All of these resources are useful in different ways.

* International Federation of Library Associations, Statement of Principles: Adopted at the International Conference on Cataloguing Principles, Paris, October 1961, ed. Eva Verona, Definitive ed. (London: International Federation of Library Associations Committee on Cataloguing, 1971), xiii.

Digitized Book Collections

In the last two decades, mass digitization projects have led to the creation of large online digital libraries. Because of copyright restrictions, typically only materials in the public domain are freely available online. This includes, however, most works published before 1923, most government publications, and many works whose authors or publishers have released them into the public domain.

Interlibrary Loan

At some point in your research, you will likely identify a book that the Library does not own, and that is not available through I-Share. You can have the Library borrow a copy of the book or journal article from a library that does own it. Because these are loans between libraries (our library borrows it on your behalf from another library), this service is called interlibrary loan. To initiate an interlibrary loann, you will use a tool called Illiad: