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How to Find Physical Resources in the Library: Searching the Catalog

Introduction to the Library Catalog

What is the library catalog?

The library catalog is a database (organized, searchable information) of physical books, DVDs, and sound recordings that are available in Lightner Library.

Some of these items are circulating which means you can check them out, and others are non-circulating which means you must use them in the library.

To find E-Books, visit the Find an E-Book page.


Why should you use the library catalog?

Searching the catalog is a lot faster than going through every shelf in the library looking for the item you want!

The catalog will tell you the call number, which will allow you to locate it in the stacks (shelves). 

You can search by any word or phrase and find materials you didn't know the library had!

Try It Now! (or Read More Below)

The search box below will search our library catalog directly, or you can go to the full version of the catalog.

The informational sections below will provide further information on searching the catalog, so you can learn to search like a pro!


Search catalog for:

Learn How to Search the Catalog Like a Pro!




Learn to Search the Catalog Like a Pro!


You might be thinking, "Anyone can type into a search box. It's like searching Google! Why would I need to learn anything else?"

But searching the catalog is NOT the same as searching Google! And I'll tell you why.

  • It isn't as good at recognizing when you've misspelled words
  • There's no "natural language processing", which means it isn't as good at figuring out what you are looking for. You have to do the work at choosing the correct search terms for the best results.
  • You have to know where to look and how to use the catalog to find your physical book.
  • You won't find all of the library's resources from one search box. The library catalog has a specific use: physical materials

But don't worry. We're here to help you! And it's easy to learn.


Understanding Records in the Catalog

Each item in the catalog has its own record, which tells you all the information we have about that item.

Each record contains the following information:

  • Format - Tells you whether the item is a Book, DVD, or CD, etc.
  • Author or Creator
  • Title
  • Edition
  • Publisher and Date of Publication
  • Physical Description - Tells you the number of pages and whether it contains illustrations
  • Summary (if available)
  • Subjects - Tells you what the book is about. These subjects are standardized by the Library of Congress.
  • Contents - Titles of the chapters or tracks are provided if available.
  • Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)
  • International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
  • Number of Copies the Library Owns
  • The Call Number for each copy
  • Availability for each copy - whether or not it has been checked out
  • The Location - Where in the library each copy is kept
  • The Circulation Date - the last time this book was checked out


Types of Searches

The "Anywhere" Search (in some places known as a "Keyword" search or an "Any Field" search)

This search does exactly what it sounds like. It will search anywhere in each record for the words you typed into the search box.

Example: You search the catalog for "cat" in the anywhere search. You get 104 results. Some of the results have the word "cat" in the title. Some of the results have "cat" in the summary. Other results have "cat" in the subjects. And some results might be from an author named Cat!

Note: If you were looking for books about cats, then any books with an author named Cat would probably be false drops. False drops are results that had the word you were looking for, but were not at all related to what you were looking for. The anywhere search is useful in that it searches anywhere in the record, but sometimes it can create more false drops. You can deal with false drops by sorting and filtering your results after your search. See the box below called "Sort and Filter Your Results."

The Subject Search

This will search only in the part of each record that lists the Subjects (what each item is about).

Example: You are looking for a book about cats. You do not want any results to come up with an author named "Cat." So, you do a subject search for "cat." You get a list of subjects related to cats with the number of items we have for each subject listed to the right. You click the subject of your choice to view the items that have that subject listed.

The Title Search

This will search only in the part of each record that contains the Title of each item. Keep in mind that the search works alphabetically, so you will want to try searching for the first word of the title (excluding "the" or "a" or "an").

Example: You are looking for books that have a title starting with "Kennedy." You get results listed alphabetically starting with all the titles starting with "Kennedy" and then going forward in the alphabet from there. You see a title called "Kennedy and Nixon." You click that title to view the record for that book.

The Author Search

This will search only in the part of each record that contains the author's or authors' (multiple) name(s). Make sure you search in (last name, first name) format.

Example: You are looking only for books that John F. Kennedy authored or co-authored. You do not want any books about John F. Kennedy, only books that he wrote. You do an author search for "kennedy john." His full name comes up as Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963. and to the right of that, it says we have 6 books in the catalog with him listed as an author. You click his name to view the 6 books, and you've found exactly what you needed.

Sort and Filter Your Results

Once you've hit the button to search, you'll get a list of results. But that doesn't have to be the end! You can still sort and filter your results.

Sorting Your Results

Towards the top of the page, just below the search boxes, and just above the list of results, you'll see a dropdown menu allowing you to change the sort of your results. It looks like this.

First of all, with the drop down that says "10 per page", you can show up to 100 results per page, for your convenience. If you plan on looking through a large quantity of results, this may be a good idea.

Next, take a look at the box that says "Sort: Relevance." That shows you how the results are currently sorted. If you click the dropdown, you can choose any number of options. This will change how the results are sorted, and therefore, which results you see first.

There are a number of different ways to sort your results. Let's go through each one below.

Different Ways to Sort Your Results

  • Relevance
    • Usually the default setting. Relevance means that the topmost results had the word you typed in the search box appearing the most number of times in the record.
  • Most Popular
    • The top results circulated the most, which means more people checked them out.
  • Author
    • Lists the results alphabetically by the author's last name or the credited organization's name.
  • Title
    • Lists the results alphabetically by the first word of the title (that isn't an article like a, an, or the).
  • Call Number
    • Lists the results in call number order. For more information, see Book Shelving Order.
  • Publication Date
    • Lists the results from the most recent to the least recent.

Filtering Your Results

You also have the option to filter your results using the checkboxes on the left-hand side of the results page.

The number of results that filter will provide is shown next to each option.

The filter box looks like this and goes on down the length of the page:

AOE Librarian

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April Higgins
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The Library Catalog is a Database -
But What is a Database?

Question: So...What is a database?

The library catalog is a database, but what does that mean?

Answer: A database is simply a collection of data or information that is organized for efficient retrieval.

Think of a phone book. A phone book generally has names, addresses, and phone numbers. A phone book is traditionally organized alphabetically by last name. So, if you forgot the person's last name, you would be out of luck!

Unless! Unless it is a digital phone book, such as In a digital phone book, you can search by anything contained in the database. You can search by last name, first name, phone number, or address. As with any database, the more information you include in the search, the fewer search results you will receive (and those fewer results will all be closer matches to what you are looking for).

The library catalog is the same way. Before the 80's and 90's when libraries started using digital catalogs, the library catalog was called the card catalog and there were usually multiple catalogs to allow you to search different ways. A common way was to sort the cards alphabetically by title within each subject area. Another way was to sort the cards by the author's last name. Now we have a lot more flexibility because digital catalogs allow us to search by anything!

(Image source:

You might not realize that you use databases everyday. 

Here are some examples of databases commonly used. 

Amazon organizes products in their database and Netflix organizes movies. Google is a database of webpages and websites. Facebook and Twitter use databases to organize the people and their posts in the network. Even the address book on your cell phone is a database!