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.
The UIUC Library is one of 75+ 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.
For some topics, you might find useful primary sources in the local public libraries, Urbana Free Library and Champaign Public Library. For example, here are some titles that might be useful image sources, but which you won't find in the University Library:
These sources are not scholarly, but might be useful in identifying primary source material. For scholarly resources, the best place to begin is almost always the Universit Library.
Why bother with subject headings when one can do keyword searching?
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.
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.
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 a biography of Lincoln is classified under 973.7L63, then you can go to the shelves in the Main Stacks or the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library to browse more works on the same subject.
Similarly, you might in your searches discover that books on numismatics are classifed under 737, and that books on medals and medallions are at 737.2 . Books on stamps and seals are at 737.6 . And so forth.
This method of research is especially valuable if you are seeking visual material. The subject heading "Pictorial works", as described above, is a useful way quickly to locate graphical material, but the heading is applied only to works that are chiefly pictorial, and even then it hasn't been used consistently. The point being that the library has far more graphical representations of Lincoln than the hundred odd books labeled as such in the online catalog.
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, Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures by Michael Baxandall, has the call number 750.118 B33p, then you can go to the shelf in the Architecture and Art Library or the Main Bookstacks and look at other books with the same classification number.
You'll also find shelf browsing useful when looking for primary sources. See our section Shelf Browsing for Primary Sources for more information.
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. Most of these collections support full-text searching.