Why bother with subject headings when you can do keyword searching in the Online Catalog?
It's true that you can find sources on a topic by doing keyword searches. But if you limit yourself to keyword searching, you are likely to miss important material on your topic that uses other terms. If you only need two or three books, you can probably find what you need by doing keyword searches, but if you are doing historical research, you can’t afford to miss critical material on your topic. For a comprehensive search on a historical topic, search with subject headings as well as keywords.
A good way to identify subject headings for a topic is to do a keyword search in the online catalog using terms you think describe the topic and try to identify a few relevant books. Look at the full record for those books to see what subject headings were used, then do another search on those headings.
As a rule of thumb, use fairly broad headings, as well as the specific ones that describe your topic, in order to make sure you haven't inadvertently eliminated relevant material that is contained within works of larger scope. Most likely you will find multiple headings to describe your topic, and you should use all of them. You can narrow your search in the online catalog by combining subject headings (as a phrase) with keywords, using the “Advanced Search” option.
The online catalog offers both “Quick Search” and “Advanced Search” options. Use “Advanced Search” to identify subject headings on your topic, to combine subject headings (or elements from subject headings) in a Boolean search, or to combine keywords from any part of the record with subject headings to narrow your search.
Use “Quick Search” to browse a subject heading, to search a title when you know exactly how it begins, to locate a work or works by a particular author, or to search by call number for a specific book.
In order to browse the shelves, you need to know the “Dewey number” for your topic. At the UIUC Library, we use the Dewey Decimal Classification to organize our collection of more than 10 million items. In Dewey, the first three numbers indicate the main subject, and additional numbers are added after a decimal point to narrow the subject. Books and journals on religious topics are usually classified in the 200s.
Once you have identified a few books on your topic by doing a subject search in the online catalog, you can browse the shelf under the same general number(s) to find related works. For example, if you know that the book, An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire, by Michael Northcott, has the call number 261.70973 N814a, you can go to the shelf in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library Library or the Main Bookstacks and look at other books with the same Dewey stem. However, depending on their focus, other books on this topic may be classified under other numbers, so you'll need to have a few call numbers in mind when you go to browse the shelves.
In addition to the 13 million+ printed books available to you here in the Library, we also have a rapidly growing collection of digitized books.