What is a Library Catalog?
When researching in a library, especially a research library, its catalog is probably the most important tool you will use, and one with which you should familiarize yourself as quickly as possible. Even if you think you have never used the Library Catalog here, you probably have and just do not realize it, since "Easy Search", the Library's federated search engine, sends all queries to the Library Catalog along with several other online research tools.
A library catalog is a database of records that identify and describe resources owned by the library. Most of these records describe published resources like books. Use the catalog to find both print sources and digitized sources in the Library's collections.
Many research libraries today will dress their catalogs up with fancy interfaces, making the catalogs appear to have far greater functionality than they actually do. You will be a much better user of library catalogs if you understand the purpose and functions of library catalogs, which are in fact very basic:
Digitization of library catalogs has made it possible to perform keyword searches on the records in the catalog. Aside from this innovation, and a few other conveniences, the library catalogs of today are essentially identical (in function) to library catalogs created a hundred years ago.
If you can't find your book in our Library Catalog, you should next check to see if it's available from an I-Share Library. To search all I-Share Libraries, switch to "Advanced Search" in our library's catalog, and select the "All I-Share Libraries" radio button.
After you have explored the books available to you here at the University of Illinois, and also at other I-Share libraries, you will want to expand your search using WorldCat:
If you find a book in WorldCat that you would like to use for your research, you can request it through Interlibrary Loan:
Why bother with subject headings in the online catalog when you 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.
As described in a previous page, you can also use subject headings to find primary sources in the Library Catalog. Use the Library Catalog's advanced search option and include one or more of these Library of Congress Subject Heading form subdivisions in your search:
1. International Federation of Library Associations, Statement of Principles: Adopted at the International Conference on Cataloguing Principles, Paris, October 1961, ed. Eva Verona, Definitive ed. (London: International Federation of Library Associations Committee on Cataloguing, 1971), xiii.