Tutorial: Library Catalogue

An essential tutorial for understanding how to find what's in our Library.

Searching the Library Catalogue for a Topic

Searching for a Topic

When you don't have titles or authors, and you want to know what the library has on a topic, you'll want to use a subject browse. BUT DON'T.

Why not?  If it works for finding titles quickly, why not subjects?  

It's because subjects are very specific headings given to items - like tags.  Read about "subject headings" to understand.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Subject Headings are like extremely specific tags applied to items in a library catalogue.  The Library of Congress (in the U.S.) provides the official list of terms that can be used - a set of four huge books.

The Library Catalogue's Subject Browse refers to the list of Library of Congress Subject Headings that are used in our catalogue. It matches up your search term to a spot on our alphabetical list of Subject Headings. These headings are complex and if you aren't familiar with them you'll have trouble.

  • For example, if you browse for the subject of "Canadian History" you won't find anything, but "Canada -- History" finds hundreds of items.
  • The Subject Headings come from a large list of terms used by libraries all over the world - we can't just make them up. They are specific in their wording and you need to match them exactly for your search to be successful.


Subject Headings are a specific part of the Library Catalogue record. They don't show in the brief record of an item; click on "Catalogue Record" to see them.

  • To "browse" these subjects, you need to know just how they are entered.
  • A keyword search of "subject" will search ONLY these.


Some items (Government Publications, for example) don't include Subject Headings in their descriptions.

  • When you use a subject browse, you eliminate all these items; the Library Catalogue can't find it if it isn't there.


When you want to search for items on a topic, use a keyword search rather than a "subject browse".  A keyword search is more flexible.

Here's a Library Catalogue record for a book.  Look at the Subject Headings it's been given.

The book is entitled, Mississauga Protraits: Ojibwe Voiced from Nineteenth-Century Canada.  The subjects are:

Missisauga Indians - Biography
Missisauga Indians - History - 19th century
Methodists - Ontario - Biography
Methodists - Ontario - History - 19th century

Notice the different spellings of "Mississauga"?

  • If you search "title" you'll only find it with one spelling; in "subject" it's the other.  If you search "anywhere" you'll find it either way.


screen capture of catalogue record with subject headings

Keyword Topic Search

Keyword searching is usually the best way to find items on a topic.  It's a broad, flexible search that can be filtered and altered.

A keyword search finds your terms somewhere in the Library Catalogue description (record) of an item.

  • It might be in the title, the Subject Heading, description, or even the author.
  • You can search "anywhere" (the default), or you can specify where you want the term to be. Most of the time an "anywhere" search is best to start.

To find items in the Library Catalogue on your topic:

  1. Choose Keyword as the Search Type.
  2. Enter one or two terms that are important to your topic. The challenge is in choosing the right words to search for, as you'll learn in the Keyword Tutorial.
  3. Select "anywhere" in the drop down menu (this is the default).
  4. Click on "Search".

Where to Search

When you keyword search specifically in "subjects", the Library Catalogue only looks for your terms in the Subject Headings.

  • Remember that some items don't have Subject Headings, and the terms used are very specific, so your search is restrictive.
  • Search "anywhere" to find your term in the title, subject, or some other part of the description - a broader, more inclusive search.


Search for "women and vote" in "anywhere". 

  • Put "and" between your search terms to increase the number of results. (This is covered later, in the Keyword Searching tutorial.)

The search "women and vote" finds over 20 items in the library that have the words "women" and "vote" in their description.

  • They include print books, e-books, historical documents on microfiche, and videos.
  • Remember that there are no journal articles - the Library Catalogue isn't the right place to find those.

Further Reading

More tips about keyword searching are in our Keyword Searching tutorial, since the same prinicples apply to all database searching.  That's the next tutorial you'll read, but here's a link in case you want to jump there now.


The results look different from a browse search:

  • You're not using an existing list - you're creating your own list.
  • They're not in alphabetical order - they're by date, newest first. 
  • They include ONLY items containing the search term somewhere in the description.

From Your List

Look through the results and click on items that look useful to find out more about them.

  • Your results include a variety of formats, both online and hard-copy (physical). 
  • Write down call numbers (discussed later in this tutorial) for physical items to find in the library, and follow links to online resources.
  • Use the options for "Find more on these topics" or "Nearby items on shelf" to find more items.


Pick a topic below, or think of one that interests you.  Check to see what's available in Library. 

Try your search three ways:

  • subject browse
  • keyword search in subject
  • keyword search anywhere

Look at how your results change.


  • Canadian politics
  • frogs
  • Victorian poetry
  • English poetry
  • neurobiology
  • green business

Tips on Searching for a Subject

  1. DON'T browse by subject , unless you are comfortable using LC Subject Headings.
  2. If you do want to use subject browsing, familiarize yourself with Library of Congress Subject Headings.
  3. Use a keyword search to search "anywhere" for one or two terms that are important to your topic. Skim through your results for useful items; click on titles for more detail.
  4. You need to click on "Catalogue Record" in the "Item Details" of an item to see the subject headings assigned to it.
  5. If you find a good subject heading, you can click on it to find more with the same subject, or try a new keyword search using one or more of the terms.

Symbols Used in Library Catalogue Keyword Searching

$ : find 0-100 characters in this position

  • example: pollut$ finds pollute, pollutant, pollution, polluting, polluted, polluter...
  • usually used at the end of a word, but can be used in the middle
    • behav$r finds behaviour and behavior

? : find any single character in this position (but not NO character)

  • examples: wom?n finds woman or women, organi?ation finds organization or organisation.

'single quotes' : use around terms that must appear as a phrase

  • examples : 'social work', 'great lakes', 'cold war'
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