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English: Finding Books

Subject guide for English majors

Introduction

Use the Library Catalog to search for print resources, multimedia resources, and ebooks. The Library Catalog also provides location and availability details. Use quotation marks for "phrase searching"

Books are a great source for background information, big themes, and analysis of a large topic. They are not such a great option for up-to-date statistics or cutting edge research because of the amount of time they take to publish.

If you find a book that looks like it might be useful, look at the table of contents and index and try to find the topic keywords you identified. If you can't find your keywords, the book is probably not going to be helpful for your research. If the keywords are in certain chapters, you can identify which sections you'll need to read instead of wasting your time on the whole book.

What does the catalog record tell you about a resource?

Each item in the library's collection has its own catalog record, like the one below.

Here you can see the item's location and call number and also its status. If it says AVAILABLE, the item should be on the shelf.

Take a look at the parts of the record that are hyperlinked. If you click on the author's name, you can see what else in the catalog he or she wrote.

The subject terms are useful not only for finding other materials that are closely related to the one you're looking at, but also for suggesting additional search keywords.

If you find a really relevant book in the catalog, look at the subject terms to see if they use different words to describe your topic than you did. Try incorporating those new words in your searches to get a different angle on your research.

Where in the library is my book?

After you've found a book in the catalog, you'll need to find it on the shelf. Each book has a Library of Congress call number that identifies where exactly it's located.

Library of Congress call numbers should be read one line at a time as follows:

Example of a complete call number, DA 36 .A55:

Line 1   DA
Line 2   36
Line 3   .A55

 

1. First, look at Line 1:

Books are arranged in alphabetical order, by the letters on the first line of the call number.

Example: first come all the D call numbers, then all the DA call numbers, then DB, etc.

An illustration showing three groups of books. The first groups all have the letter D on the spine. The second group have the letters DA on the spine. The third group have the letters DB on the spine.

2. Next, look at Line 2:

Within the DA call numbers, books are arranged in number order.

The numbers are arranged in numerical from low to high.

Example:

An illustration of five books standing in a line. The spines read, in order, DA 1, DA 2, DA 22, DA 36, and DA 38.

3. Then look at Line 3:

Line 3 of the call number has a letter and a number. The letters are in alphabetical order. Then read the numbers—but BEWARE!

The numbers are not whole numbers, they are DECIMAL numbers.

Example: A55 is read as A .55—this is why A55 comes before A6 (A .55, A .6, A .65, etc.)

An illustration showing six books standing in a line. The spines read, in order, DA 36 A5, DA 36 A55, DA 36 A6, DA 36 B21, DA 36 B212.

 

Where to start in the catalog

Subject headings are a good way to find relevant search keywords and also explore related resources. Below are some subjects you could start with, and be sure to look at the other subject headings in the item record to find new directions for your research.