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.
In the library catalog, you will find everything the library owns—print books, ebooks, DVDs, streaming audio, microfiche, and more.
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. If the item you're looking at is an electronic resource (such as an ebook or streaming video), you will not see a location or call number. Instead, you'll see a link that reads "View online," which will let you access the resource.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.)