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Tutorial: TOPCAT, the Library Catalogue: Introduction

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


The Purpose of TOPCAT

TOPCAT is a database of items in our Library

Every library has a database (search engine) that only searches what's in that library. Ours is called TOPCAT, for Trent Online Public Catalogue.

University libraries are large and complex, with a variety of material in various locations, including e-resources that aren't on any shelf.  The library's catalogue is your tool for discovering what's available and where it is.

  • TOPCAT covers every type of material our library owns: books, journals, maps, government publications, other databases, e-journals, e-books, pamphlets, microforms, Reserve items, videos and films.
  • You can search by title, author, subject, or keyword.
  • You can limit to specific dates, material types, or locations.
  • If it's physically in the library, TOPCAT tells you where it's kept. If it's an online resource, TOPCAT provides a link to it.

What can TOPCAT do?

  • TOPCAT provides the call number and location of an item.
    • Often it also has a brief description.
  • If it's signed out, you'll see when it's due back.
  • You can renew your signed-out items in TOPCAT using the "My Account" feature.
  • You can place a "hold" on something that's signed out to someone else, and we'll hold it for you when it comes back.

TOPCAT's Level of Detail

TOPCAT tells you what we have in our library, but its coverage of items is general. TOPCAT does NOT search the full text of books, journals, or any other item it describes. 

It's not specific enough to tell you what's on every page of a book.

  • It tells you that we have a book and it describes the book. 
  • But to see the content, you need to go to the book (either physically on the shelf or through a link to the e-book).
  • Think of TOPCAT as searching only the descriptions of items.

You can't find individual journal articles using TOPCAT.

  • TOPCAT can tell you if we have a specific journal, but not an article within it.  You can also search for journals that cover a broad subject area (e.g. Biology, History) to see what we have.
  • But to find specific articles, you need a full citation - usually from an index or a bibliography.  The citation tells you which journal, issue, page the article is on.
  • Finding articles is covered in the "Finding Articles" tutorial, which you'll read later.  (There's a link below if you just can't wait.)

Access to TOPCAT

TOPCAT is accessible on the internet to anyone, without restrictions. You don't need a library card or password in order to search TOPCAT.

There are some limitations on what you can do without an account, such as placing a "hold" or accessing e-journals. You must be a registered student (or staff / faculty) with a library card to use these features.

A TOPCAT (catalogue) record is a description of an item in the library.

Every item in the library has a record in TOPCAT that provides:

  • the call number
  • bibliographic details (author, title, publisher, publication date, subject headings)
  • number of copies
  • location of each copy. 

Sometimes (depending on the item) there's even more information in a record, like subject headings, book cover images, descriptions, and links to material online.

For more details and screen captures of results pages, go to TOPCAT Results.

Next page: Search Titles ...

This TOPCAT tutorial is detailed, with examples and screen captures spread throughout.  TOPCAT is logical and easy to use, when you understand the general principles, so you may not need to be told all the details.  As you use it more, you may need to understand it better.  The tutorials are always available from the Library's homepage, for further consultation.

Here are some suggestions for progressing through the tutorial the first time.

  • The tutorial is divided into pages, with tabs for each page at the top.  On each page there's a box with further tabs. The content assumes you'll start at the first tab and move through in order.
  • The pages are short, covering a very specific topic.  This is so you can find a section later, if you need a refresher.
  • Read for general understanding the first time through.  You probably won't remember all the details anyway, but you'll know where to find them later.  (If you have a test on this, it's okay to return to a tutorial in order to find an answer.)
  • Screen capture images include labels and explanations; sometimes this is all you need.  There's always text on the page to explain what's in the image.
  • Always read the "Introduction" and "Tips" pages.  What's in between is usually details and examples.
  • Try the examples as you go.  Practice is helpful to learning.  If it's all common sense to you, move on to the next section.
  • Occasionally there are links to other tutorials or other sections of the tutorial.  You can ignore these for your first read - if you need them you'll get them later in the course.  They're there to help someone searching for information get there faster.