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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498H: Obscenity, Censorship, and the Regulation of Morals in the United States from 1873 to the Present

Course guide.

1. The Online Catalog

Use the Online Catalog to find books. In the Online Catalog you can search for books by subject, or you identify the location within the Library of a particular book or journal.

Books and journals are organized in the library by subject. Each item is assigned one or more subject headings and a unique call number. Subject headings are standardized terms from the Library of Congress. The call number is based on the Dewey Decimal Classification.

2. I-Share

The UIUC Library is one of 70+ member libraries comprising the I-Share consortium. I-Share libraries share an online catalog, I-Share, and UIUC students, staff, and faculty can borrow directly from the other libraries in the consortium by placing a request through the catalog.

You can also search the UIUC catalog separately. When you use the Library Gateway, this is the first option under “Library Catalogs,” and normally you will want to start by searching UIUC only.

3. Why Bother with Subject Headings?

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 subject search, 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.

4. Some example subject headings

This is list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to give you a sense of what subject headings look like, how they're constructed, and the range of topics covered from general to specific.

  • Mass media--Censorship.
  • Freedom of the press.
  • Prohibited books.   
  • Pornography.
  • Pornography--Censorship.
  • Pornography--Government policy.
  • Pornography--Law and legislation.
  • Pornography--Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Pornography--Moral and religious aspects.
  • Pornography--Political aspects.
  • Pornography--Religious aspects.
  • Pornography--Social aspects.
  • Pornography--United States.
  • Obscenity (Law).
  • Birth control.
  • Birth control--Law and legislation.
  • Birth control--Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Birth control--Moral and religious aspects.
  • Birth control--Religious aspects.
  • Birth control--United States.
  • Birth control--United States--History.
  • Contraception--Social aspects.
  • Comstock, Anthony, 1844-1915.
  • Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
  • Woman's Christian Temperance Union--History.
  • Ethics--History--United States.
  • United States--Social conditions.
  • United States--Social conditions--1918-1932.
  • United States--Moral conditions.
  • United States--Moral conditions--History.
  • United States--Moral conditions--History--20th century.
  • United States--Moral conditions --Periodicals.
  • United States. Office of Censorship--History.

5. Searching the Online Catalog

To search the online catalog, go to the Library Gateway and click on Library Catalog. 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.

6. Shelf Browsing

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 historical topics are usually classified in the 900s, although much of social history is classified in the 300s.

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, Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship by J.M. Coetzee, has the classification number 363.31, then you can go to the shelf in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, the Communications Library, or the Main Bookstacks and look at other books with the same classification number.

However, not all books on censorship will be classified under the same number. Depending on the focus, books relevant to this topic may be classified under other numbers (obscenity, philosophy, legal history, freedom of the press, social control), so you’ll need to have a few call numbers in mind when you go to browse the shelves.  Below are some example books that demonstrate the variety of relevant classification numbers you can expect to find:

7. Online Book Collections

In addition to the 10 million+ printed books available to you here in the Library, we also have a rapidly growing collection of digitized books.

Internet Archive and Google Books.
Hundreds of thousands of books digitized from the collections of North American and British research libraries, including University of Illinois. These are the two largest digitized book collections that are free to use.  Google Books allows full text searching across across the collection's entire contents. Internet Archive only support searching catalog-information like title, subject headings, author, and so forth.

Archive of Americana.
Includes Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800, and Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819, as well as 3 major government documents collections: American State Papers, 1789-1838, U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980, and Serial Set Maps, 1817-1980.

ACLS Humanities E-Book (formerly History E-Book Project).
Includes more than 2,000 scholarly books (as of January 2009) in the humanities, made available in digital format by the American Council of Learned Societies.

Women and Social Movements
Collection of primary and secondary sources, along with auxiliary material like lesson plans, dictionary articles, and so forth.