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Book Searching

Tutorial for Book Searching

Subject Headings

In order to make sure that items on the same subject are located near each other on the shelves, libraries use systems to organize materials by classifying them and assigning them a specific location number, known as a call number. Library organization systems are based upon classification schemes that group materials by subject.

Subject headings use controlled vocabulary — that is, consistent terminology — to describe a book or article.

Subject headings are assigned to each book or other item based on what it is about. The CUNY Catalog uses Library of Congress subject headings. Once you find a book that looks good, you should check the subject headings for more books on that topic. They will be listed near the bottom of the record. The computer will sometimes guide you from the unused heading to the correct one.

Ex.: Immigration see Emigration and immigration

CUNY Catalog Search: Subject headings of an item generated by the search type “Title begins with…” for the search string “immigration”

Subject headings are also broken down into subheadings covering more specific aspects of a topic.

For example, if you search for Costa Rica, you will see a list that looks something like this:

  • Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica -- Bibliography
  • Costa Rica -- Census, 1963
  • Costa Rica -- Description and Travel
  • Costa Rica -- Description and Travel -- Periodicals

It is also worth noting that there are some concepts that are almost always subject terms. They include:

  • Notable people (Last name first, for example: Roosevelt Eleanor)
  • Countries or geographic regions (for instance: Argentina, Antarctica)
  • Important ideas, social and economic systems, philosophies and religions (for example, Hinduism, capitalism, existentialism)

Since books are also physically organized by subject, you should check the shelf near any useful book you find. More may be available right next to it!