Finding Books

Section 3 – Finding Books

Where is the library catalog?  Most often, you will find it on the home page of a library’s Web site. 

It has a record of each of the items a library owns.  These include:

  • Books
  • Journals
  • Newspapers & magazines
  • Slides and video recordings
  • Music and musical scores and
  • Electronic resources, such as databases, article indexes, electronic journals, and electronic books

Note:  You won’t find individual articles in a library catalog.  You’ll learn how to find them by using an article index described in the next section.

Ways to Search a Catalog

There are two options for searching a library catalog:

  • Basic Search
  • Advanced Search

Basic Search

Finds items by title, author, subject, etc.

You can enter keywords and the computer will look for a match for those terms in the records of all the items in the library.

Advanced Search

Use an Advanced search when you:

  • are doing a preliminary search and need ideas for additional search terms
  • need to combine two or more concepts
  • are searching for a phrase

An Advanced search provides fill-in boxes and drop-down menus that make searching easy.

  • capital letters are not necessary
  • you can select a connector (AND, OR, or NOT), but usually you’ll want to leave this as AND.
  • usually you’ll leave the Search By drop-down menu as Keyword

Finding a Book by Its Title

Use a Title search in the Basic search tab when you already know the name of a book you want.  


  • Omit any initial articles, (a, an, the) when they are the first word of a title.  For example, enter: sun also rises not The Sun Also Rises
  • You don’t need to use capital letters or punctuation.

Finding a Book by Author

Tips on searching by author:

  • Enter the author’s last name first: shakespeare william
  • Put a space between names or initials: salinger j d
  • Do not use punctuation

Subject Searching in a Library Catalog

You’d think you could enter any term as a Subject search.  However, the Subject search uses special terms to organize books by subject.  These are called Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH for short).  If you enter your keywords as a Subject search, you may not get many results.  For example:

If you entered a Subject Heading search for: acquired immune deficiency you would get no results!

But if you searched using the LCSH term, AIDS (Disease) you would get results.

Making the Most of Subject Searching

The advantage of a subject search is that it provides a more focused search. 

Its disadvantage is that it’s hard to know what LCSH term is used for a topic.

A good strategy is:

  • First, use your own terms in an Advanced Search.
  • Then look at the records for books that are on your topic.
  • Jot down any good subject terms that are listed and use them later in subject searches (in some instances you can click directly on the subject term and it will open up a new set of results)

You can also use a subject search to find books about a person or organization.

Another Use for Subject Searching

To search for books about a person you can enter his/her name (enter the last name first) in a Subject search:

            twain mark

Similarly, you can find books about an organization by entering its name as a Subject search.

            general motors corporation

Call Number

Write down the call number.  It acts as the “address” of where an item is located in the library. 

Good job!

This section showed you how to search a library catalog.  Now you should be able to:

  • know that a library contains more than books
  • find books on a topic using an Advanced search
  • find books by title, author, or subject heading
  • read a call number and use it to find items in the library

Before continuing on to section 4, take the self-test.


1.  Which item CANNOT be found in a library’s catalog?

            A.  Journal Title

            B.  Journal Article

            C.  Musical Score

            D.  Video Recording

2.  When entering a title of a book you leave off a, an, or the if it is the first word.  (Choose one.)

            A.  True

            B.  False

3.  If you wanted to find a book about Bill Gates, you would use a (Choose one.)           

            A.  Keyword search

            B.  Subject search

            C.  Author search

4.  When looking for a book on a topic, a good strategy is to first do a Keyword search and then look at subject terms that you might want to use.  (Choose one.)

            A.  True

            B.  False

5.  Using a Keyword search in a library catalog you can (Choose Two)

            A.  combine two or more concepts

            B.  find textbooks for your class

            C.  search the Internet

            D.  use your own search terms


Answer Key:

            1.  Correct answer is B.  To identify a journal article, you will need to use an article index. 

            2.  This is true, because the words are so common that searching them would slow down a search.

            3.  B is correct.  A subject search will focus your search on books that are about Bill Gates.

            4.  True, because it may give other terms to use in your search.

            5.  A.  a Keyword search is the only type of search that lets you combine concepts

                 D.  this is one of the advantages of a keyword search.

  CONSTRUCTING SEARCH QUERIES                                                                                                                                 FINDING ARTICLES