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7.1: Finding Books

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    A library’s catalog is often called an online catalog, OPAC, or something else. UCSD, for example, calls their catalog Roger in honor of Roger Revelle, one of the founding faculty and UC Berkeley calls theirs Oskicat after their mascot: a bear named Oski. A library’s catalog will list what the library owns such as books, periodicals (magazines, journals and newspapers) DVDs, Microform, archival materials and so on. It may have links to free quality information on the web. It will not list articles, but rather the periodicals that are accessible through the library. Use the search strategies we discussed in 4, 5 and 6 above to find electronic-books and printed books on your topic. In addition to those books found via the catalog, some libraries will have additional databases with some books or book chapters in them. You will probably find those on a database page. Remember though, you generally are not looking for a book or an article: you are looking for the answers to your questions. (See 6C for information about finding books in libraries using a multi-database (federated) search.)

    Some of the books you find will be e-books. You access them using whatever password your library shares with you. In higher education institutions, you will most likely use your student ID as your username or password. Check with your library for details.

    Print books on the shelves are accessed by using the call numbers you have retrieved from the catalog. Academic libraries in the U.S. most often use Library of Congress call numbers which is an alpha numeric (letters and numbers) system. You will find books by knowing how to read a call number. The books shown below are in call number order.


    Noting the call number is only the first step on getting your hands on a paper book. Titles on penguins, such as Wilson, for example, may be in reference (encyclopedias about birds and such), in special collections, in the circulating collection or in another area in your library. On large university campuses or multi-campus community colleges, you will need to note which library the title is in as well. The call numbers for these books may be very similar in all the different areas (e.g. QL 696 .S473). Check to see if the book may be checked out or if it needs to be used in the library. The last thing to notice is if it is available for checkout or if someone else has checked it out (taken it home). All this information will most likely be on the page near the call number.


    • To get a print book:
    • Get the call number
    • Note which library it is in (if applicable)
    • Note the location in the library (circulation, reference, reserves…)
    • Note if it may be checked out (if you can take it home)
    • Note if it is checked in (in the library so you can check it out)

    Here is how this information for the book Waiting to fly: my escapades with the penguins of Antarctica looks in the San Diego City College library catalog. Notice that our sister campus (Mesa) has this title as well.


    Here is how CSU Northridge shows the same information for the same book.


    The needed information will just be organized differently in different library catalogs. The idea is to know the information you need to get from the catalog so you can get your hands on the book you want: library, location, call number, floor etc. If you are looking for a book in a library after searching the catalog and cannot find it, ask a librarian.

    This page titled 7.1: Finding Books is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Carol M. Withers with Bruce Johnson & Nathan Martin.

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