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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

African American Studies 495: Senior Thesis Seminar

A 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 130+ 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.

3. Why Bother with Subject Headings?

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 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

  • African Americans.
  • African Americans --History.
  • African Americans --History --1863-1877.
  • African Americans --History --1877-1964.
  • African Americans --History --1877-1964 --Sources.
  • African Americans --Illinois.
  • African Americans --Illinois --Chicago.
  • African Americans --Illinois --Chicago --History.
  • Equality --United States.
  • Affirmative action programs --United States --History --20th century.
  • Discrimination in employment --Government policy --United States --History --20th century.
  • African Americans --Employment --History --20th century.
  • African Americans --English.
  • African Americans --Languages.
  • Black English.
  • Black English --United States.

5. Searching the Online 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. 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.

Internet Archive and Google Books: Millions 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.

ACLS Humanities E-Book: Almost 4,000 scholarly books in the humanities, with an emphasis on history. These books can also be discovered through the online catalog.

JSTOR Books: 42,000 scholarly books, currently being made available as a pilot project

Project Muse Books: 30,000 scholary books, currently being made available as a pilot project. These books can also be discovered through the online catalog (for the duration of the pilot project).

Afro-American Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia: Over 12,000 printed works, including books, pamphlets, and broadsides.

Sabin Americana Digital Archive: Based on Joseph Sabin's Bibliotheca Americana, this collection includes books, pamphlets, and periodicals about the Americas from 1492 to 1868. Includes publications both from the Americas and from elsewhere.

Early American Imprints, Series I: 1639-1800: Based on Charles Evans'sAmerican Bibliography, includes almost every book printed in the United States between 1639-1800. Part of the Archive of Americana.

Early American Imprints, Series II: 1801-1819: Based on Ralph Shaw and Richard Shoemaker's American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801-1819, includes almost every book printed in the United States between 1801-1819.