Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

American Literature: Books

A guide to American Literature tools and resources.

Finding Books

Step One: UIUC Online Library Catalog

There are two ways to search the UIUC Library catalog. Both offer the same content but the method of searching and presentation of results varies.

  1. Through the new Primo Library Catalog. This catalog requires you to register with a login and a password to request materials. It also lets you search books in I-share (see below for more details.)
  2. Through the Library Easy Search. This interface lets you search the UIUC catalog for books, articles, journals and media. . 

Getting the actual book: When you locate your item you have two choices.

Print books

You can request the item and pick it up at any of the departmental libraries. Or, you can retrieve the book yourself from either the main stacks or the departmental library where the book is located. If you choose this option, make sure you jot down the location and call number of the item.

Electronic Books

Access will depend on the publisher. In some case you will be able to download full books via PDF. In others you might be able only to view the book online. In all cases the Library follow the publisher's requirements.

What if my book is not in the UIUC Online Library Catalog?

Step Two: I-Share

Once you have verified that the book you are looking for is either not located in the UIUC catalog or all copies are checked out, you may order it through Primo Library Catalog and selecting "All I-share Libraries." Items typically arrive within 5-10 days and you will receive an email when the item is available for pick up.

What if my book is not available in I-Share?

Step Three: Interlibrary Loan

If the item is not available in the UIUC catalog or through I-Share, then your next stop will be Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery. First, keep your full citation handy -- you'll need it. Second, login to the ILLiad server using your NetID and password. From the ILLiad main menu, select "Request a Book." Be sure to fill out as much of the form as possible, including the source of your citation. This will ensure that ILL can place your request in a timely manner. You'll be notified by email when your item is ready to be picked up.

WorldCat -You can search WorldCat to find books on your topic, which might not be in the UIUC nor the I-share catalog. Once you find a title of interest, you can order it through Interlibrary Loan

More Help with the Library Catalog

Subject Headings: Why Should I Care?

A subject heading is a special type of category that groups together materials in the Library that share a topic, author, discipline, or particular format. While simple keyword searches are a good start for finding materials, a subject heading search is an advanced type of search that often produces much more precise and targeted results that are often exactly what you need.

The subject headings used in the Library catalog are standardized Library of Congress headings, which may be subdivided by geographic area, chronological period, genre, or sub-topic. The language of subject headings is not particularly intuitive or natural, so you shouldn’t hesitate to ask a librarian for help in finding the correct subject headings.

A good way to find catalog subject headings for your topic is to do a keyword search in the online catalog. For example, let's say you do a Subject search to look for a book about Emily Dickinson, and you see the following record in your results:

Look in the "Topics" field: these are the subject headings for this book, such as "Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886 - Knowledge - Botany." The subject headings in the online catalog are hyperlinked, so simply click on one of the headings  to search for more materials under that heading.

It's best to search in both fairly broad headings as well as specific ones, in order to make sure you don't miss any relevant material. You'll likely find multiple headings that are relevant to your topic, and you will find a variety of resources if you look at all of them.

Library of Congress call numbers

Here are the relevant Library of Congress call number ranges for American literature:

PN Literature, Literary History and Collections
PN1-9 Periodicals
PN80-99 Criticism
PN101-245 Authorship
PN441-1009.5 Literary History
PN451-497 Biography
PN597-605 Special relations, movements, and currents of literature
PN695-779 Modern


PS American Literature
PS1-3576 American Literature
PS126-138 Biography, memoirs, letters, etc.                               
PS147-152 Women authors
PS163-173 Treatment of special subjects, classes
PS185-231 By period (17th-21st centuries)
PS241-286 Special regions, states, etc.
PS241-255 North
PS261-267 South
PS271-285 West and Central
PS301-326 Critical and historical works: Poetry
PS330-353 Critical and historical works: Drama
PS360-380 Critical and historical works: Prose
PS370-380 Critical and historical works: Prose fiction
PS400-408.2 Oratory
PS409 Diaries
PS410-419 Letters
PS420-429 Essays
PS430-439 Wit and humor; Satire
PS451-478 Folk literature 
PS490 Juvenile literature (General)
PS501-689 Collections of American literature
PS537-574 By region
PS580-619 Poetry
PS623-635 Drama
PS642-659.5 Prose (General)
PS660-668.2 Oratory
PS669 Diaries
PS670-678.2 Letters
PS680-689 Essays
PS700-3576 Individual authors
PS700-893 Colonial period (17th and 18th centuries)
PS991-3390 19th century
PS3500-3549 1900-1960
PS3550-3576 1961-2000
PS3600-3626 2001-