Online Catalog--Subject Searching

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Subject searching is a more specific kind of searching than keyword searching. First, the search looks only in the subject fields of each record, as opposed to every field as the keyword search does. Also, subject searching relies on a very specific vocabulary, called subject headings, generated by the Library of Congress. Subject headings group related information. A successful subject search will find all material in a library’s collection on a specific subject. This is why skillful library researchers prefer the results they get from subject searching to the more diffuse results of keyword searching. It is a much more efficient method of searching.

(To navigate through the tutorial, click the arrows below.)

Subject-Browse Searching

Go to the catalog search engine by clicking the Catalog tab on the library’s home page.

From the drop-down menu to the left of the text field, select Subject; from the drop-down to the right, select Browse. Enter “Architecture” as the search term, then click the Search button.

The results are an alphabetical list of Library of Congress subject headings, beginning with the main heading “Architecture.” All that follow are refinements of the main heading and include more specific sub-headings, constituting a virtual outline of knowledge relating to the concept of Architecture.

To the right of each heading is the number of items in the collection that are linked to that particular subject heading. By clicking “next” at either the top or bottom of the screen, you can page through the list of subject headings to get an idea of their structure and specificity. These subject headings are also a great source for the vocabulary of your research field. Clicking on any of these subject headings will generate a list of records for materials on that subject.

Subject-Exact Searching

Go back to the catalog search engine, select Subject on the left and Exact on the right and again search for the broad subject of “Architecture.” This produces a list of hundreds of items, far too many to review in detail.

Do the search again, but use the more specific subject heading “Architecture American” and see the difference. Much more manageable, right?

Library of Congress Subject Headings

The subject headings are listed in a set of books entitled Library of Congress Subject Headings, which are shelved at the Research desk on the first floor of the Middleton Library. It’s not a bad idea to peruse these volumes for applicable subject headings when starting a research project.

People as Subjects

People can also be subject headings. For example, in the catalog search engine, again select Subject and Browse and type “Wright, Frank Lloyd” in the text field. Click Search. This displays all the material in our collection about Wright, his life and work.

Learn More

To determine what the library has that was written by Wright himself will require a different search—an author search. For more on that, see the Online Catalog—Author and Title Searching tutorial.

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Research Department Updated 4/15

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