Beyond information seeking: ways the library meets some other needs.

In earlier posts to this blog, and other places around the Internet, I have written about how to ask reference librarians questions, how to use a library catalog, and some of the differences between libraries and other ways of finding information. All of these articles have assumed some kind of information-seeking, or at least literature seeking. That is, if you want something in particular, I have given pointers for how to find it. Today, I will look at a random sample of a few other good reasons to visit the library. 1. Libraries are cool in the summer (in case … Continue reading

Finding subjects in an online library catalog

There are two difficulties with subject headings in a library catalog. For one thing, you must know what the subject heading is before you can search on it. For another, not all libraries use the same subject list. At first, it seems worse than the old complaint that you can’t look up how to spell a word in the dictionary unless you know how to spell it. In the days of card catalogs, patrons had little choice but to make their best guess and hope to find something. College and university libraries, which overwhelmingly use Library of Congress Subject Headings, … Continue reading

Finding names in an online library catalog

The strength of a library catalog is something called “controlled vocabulary.” That is, there is one and only one way to express a subject or the name of a person, organized group, or legal jurisdiction in a catalog. You don’t have to know what it is; there is something called an authority file running in the background to¬† help you. This article is about names, not just authors. For one thing, it includes not only personal names, but names of groups, companies, government jurisdictions, etc. For another, any of these kinds of names can be not only the author of … Continue reading

How an online library catalog differs from Google

Some librarians love to bash Google, as if it has no redeeming qualities for serious research. Others (well, probably not many librarians) claim that Google is so far superior to online library catalogs that the only way to save them is to make them as much like Google as possible. Well, I think Google is great, but it is not a library catalog and cannot find things that an online library catalog can. Google cannot find anything that is not online, including lots of library materials. Even Google Books has its problems. I will have something more to say about … Continue reading

How do you find anything in a library catalog?

The simple answer is that you can look by keyword, author, title, or subject. Just type your search terms in the appropriately labeled box and look at whatever results come up. Sounds like Google, only not quite. The more complicated answer is that a library catalog is a database with separate indexes for keyword, author, title, subject, and so on. Unlike the Web, they are structured in such a way that there is only one official way to express a name (personal or geographic), title, or subject. They are also structured in such a way that you do not have … Continue reading