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LS 102 Course Materials

Introduction to Information Research

Library Catalog

The library catalog is the primary finding tool for the materials owned by a particular library.  Also, many catalogs indicate how and where an item can be accessed online.  Library catalogs are databases.  Databases are organized into records that have units called fields.  Among the more useful fields that can be searched in the library catalog are: author, title, and subject.  If you are searching for a term but are not sure in which field the term should appear, then use the words or phrase option.

Tips for searching the Library Catalog

Words or phrase searching allows for flexibility not available in author, title, or subject searching because the results are not limited to any one field.  For example, in an author search the computer selects only those records wherein the words you type appear in the author field.  In contrast, when you perform a words or phrase search, your search terms need only appear somewhere in the record.  

When searching for a subject, it is helpful to be familiar with the Library of Congress Subject Headings.  For example, the proper subject heading for cougars is pumas and bicycles instead of bikes.

Searching the online catalog by subject is an efficient way of retrieving information because you will get records that relate specifically to your topic.  Sometimes words or phrase searching retrieves false hits, which are records that contain your keyword but do not relate to your subject.  For example, when you type in the word "bird", do you want an item on ornithology, or the famous work by Maya Angelou entitled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?