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Humanities Research: Sources and Strategies: Books & Library Catalogs

Types of Books

A book is a book, right? Actually, there is a variety of publications that fall into the category of "book." Here are some you're likely to come across in the course of your research:

Monograph. A book by one author on one subject.

Monographic series. A publisher will sometimes issue a number of monographs on a common theme or subject, as a series. You can find the series title on the page opposite the title page, or other front matter, or on the book's cover. You'll also find (in the front or back) a list of all the books published so far in the series.

Edited volume, or Collected essays. A book containing essays, or chapters, by various authors on one subject. The essays are compiled by an editor or editors.

Festschrift. (Plural: Festschriften.) A German word meaning literally "festival of writing." A collection of essays by various authors on one subject, published to honor a prominent scholar (often upon his/her retirement, or 60th birthday). The title page often reads: "Essays in honor of ..."

Conference proceedings. The published record of a conference, including the full texts of the papers read at the conference.

Exhibition catalog. The published record of an art exhibition, including reproductions of, and articles on, the artworks displayed. Often, the articles contain new research by major scholars in the field.

Dissertation. The paper a doctoral student writes for his/her Ph.D. degree. The student is required to do exhaustive research (that is, identify everything that has ever been written) on a narrowly focused topic. As a result, the dissertation may be the only book-length treatment that has been done on that topic, and you may find information there that you won't see anywhere else. This goes for the bibliography, too. Some dissertations are later published -- you'll find these in library catalogs and bibliographic databases. You can find unpublished dissertations in certain databases that specialize in these.

Searching Library Catalogs


Below are subject terms used in academic library catalogs, that are related to the humanities. You can add them to your other search terms when searching by subject.


For Primary Sources:



Personal narratives





For Secondary Sources:

History and criticism




Book reviews

[Work] - Adaptations


For People: literary authors, artists, etc.:

Criticism and interpretation

Themes, motives


Literary style



Knowledge - [subject]

Contributions in [subject]

Views on [subject]


For Interdisciplinary aspects:

[Subject or person] - Fiction

[Subject or person] - Drama

[Subject or person] - Songs and music

[Subject] in literature

[Subject] in art



Once you've found an interesting book in the library catalog, and you're looking at the description of that book, check the following:

  • Author's name. Click on this to see more books by this author (likely to be in the same broad subject area).
  • Subject terms. Click on these to see other books on the same subjects.
  • Title keywords. Try searching these in the catalog, to find similar books.
  • Sidebars. These may show additional search terms, or similar books.
  • Call number. Click on this to see books on the same subject. Call numbers represent subject areas: consult "Library of Congress Call Numbers: Outline" to find call numbers for your subject, and use these to browse the shelves.



Controlled vocabulary vs. keyword searching:

  • Library of Congress subject headings = a controlled vocabulary system. Using terms from these in a subject search will retrieve relevant sources no matter what other terms they've used in their titles.
  • Subject headings build in the right relationships between your search terms.
  • Advantages of keyword searching: can be more up-to-date than controlled vocabulary; good for buzzwords, newly-coined terms.
  • Disdavantages of keyword searching: you may not know all the terms scholars are using for your topic; keyword searches can fail to get the right relationships between your search terms.

Interdisciplinary aspects -- subject terms you can add to your search:

  • In literature, In art, In music
  • Social aspects, Political aspects, Religious aspects, Economic aspects
  • [Subject] and society, [Subject] and state, [Subject] and literature
  • [Subject] songs and music
  • For more, see mindmap "Useful Keywords" under "Resources" below.

People -- "author" vs. "subject" search:

  • Enter name in "Author" = works by the person.
  • Enter name in "Subject" = works about the person.
  • Performers, actors, directors/producers, lyricists/librettists, etc. can be searched as authors.

Creative works -- forms and genres:

  • Can search as subject.
  • Use plural to find the works themselves ("Sonatas", "Comedies")
  • Use singular to find books analyzing these forms ("Sonata", "Comedy")

Creative works -- generic titles:

  • Music: use keywords for form (sonatas, quartets), or opus number; combine with composer's name.
  • Scriptures: use language facets (in sidebar) for translations. Use names of Bible versions as keywords ("Authorized" = King James). For commentaries, use the subject search: [Book of the Bible] Commentaries.

Library of Congress call numbers -- tips to remember:

  • Literature is classed by author = all his/her works together on the shelves.
  • Music, Art are classed by medium (piano music, sculpture) = works by one composer/artist scattered on the shelves, according to medium.



Find them using the following methods:

  • Google universities and colleges
  • WorldCat (access on ZSR's "Find a Database" page)


Types of catalog search interfaces you may see;

Federated searching. Gives you a "one-stop" search box, so you can search multiple types of resources (books, journals, databases) at one time. Good for getting an initial sense of the literature that has been written on your topic. Also useful for interdisciplinary approaches: you may find literature in databases you might not have thought were related to your topic. Drawback: convenient Google-like search box, but like Google, it gives you large result sets that can be hard to narrow down.

Faceted searching. Gives you a sidebar with additional search terms ("facets"), to help you narrow your search. Good for when you have only a broad idea for your topic, and want help narrowing it down.

Advanced or Boolean searching.  Gives you multiple search boxes. With these, you can select Boolean operators ("AND", "OR", "NOT") to connect your search terms. You can also specify which fields (subject, author, title, etc.) you want to search a particular word in. Good for when you have a narrowed topic, know some specific terms related to it, and want a precision search tool.


Books: Should I do a Broad or Narrow Search?

As a general rule, the longer the work, the larger its scope.  So when searching books, you'll want to use a fairly broad strategy. You can add keywords to narrow your search as needed.  Thus, to locate books about a literary figure, composer, artist, historical individual, philosopher, etc., you can simply search the name of the person as a subject. You can also pair the individual's name with a term describing a theme you are researching.