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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

History 498A: Confronting the Great Depression

Library Catalogs

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.

Some example subject headings

  • New Deal, 1933-1939
  • Depressions--1929--United States
  • Depressions--1929--Iowa
  • Depressions--1929--United States--Personal narratives
  • Depressions--1929--Illinois--Personal narratives
  • United States--Economic policy--1933-1945
  • United States--Economic conditions--1918-1945
  • United States--Politics and government--1933-1945
  • United States--History--1933-1945
  • United States--Social conditions--1933-1945
  • Civiliam Conservation Corps (U.S.)
  • Public service employment--United States
  • Job creation--United States
  • Federal Theatre Project (U.S.)
  • Federal Writers' Project
  • Federal Writers' Project--History
  • American Guide Series
  • Nineteen thirties
  • Dust Bowl Era, 1931-1939
  • Consumption (Economics)--United States
  • Consumption (Economics)--United States--History--20th century
  • Popular culture--United States--History--20th century

Searching the Online Catalog

The Library 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.

Digitized Book Collections

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.