Searching by Subject on EDUCAT

| February 27, 2012

Learning how to search by subject is a skill that can refine and expand your research capabilities for your coursework at TC and beyond. This is intended as a guide to searching the TC library catalog using subject headings, but the basic principle can be applied to any library catalog and most database searches.

There are two main steps to this process. First, find your subject heading. Then, use your subject heading to search on EDUCAT. These two steps are broken down below.

Note: This guide will help you find materials on different subjects. If you are interested in one particular book, that is, if you already know the author or title of the book, then you should search by the title or author under the “title” or “author” tabs on EDUCAT.

1. First, find your subject heading.

Library catalogs were designed to allow researchers to access materials according to author, title, or subject. While there are changes afoot in some libraries to update the search abilities to something more like Google, for now, we need to learn to use the system as it exists. A very helpful skill to do so is to know how to search by subject heading.

What’s a subject heading?

The Library of Congress pretty much sets the rules for libraries in the United States and for some abroad, too. One of the major things they control are subject headings–that is, the specifically formulated keywords or phrases that are used to describe materials in library catalogs. For example, if you type “cars” as a subject in a typical library catalog, you won’t get any results. Instead, you’ll be redirected to use the term “automobiles.” It’s the same thing with movies; if you type “movies” in as a subject, you’ll be asked to search for “motion pictures” instead. That’s because “automobiles” and “motion pictures” are the subject headings that the Library of Congress has assigned.

Why can’t I just use Google?

Google searches entire websites for the words and phrases you type in, and it ends up being pretty accurate as long as the website or information you are looking for was well-constructed and well-described by its webmaster. However, Google and Amazon will not tell you what books are at Teachers College, and they will not find materials that were not part of a well-designed website. Furthermore, knowing how to search by subject using a subject heading, is an extremely useful research skill not only for the TC catalog but also for every database of journals and articles that you use in your research and studies every day.

Okay, how do I find my subject heading?

There are a few ways to find a subject heading.

A) You can search for it on the Library of Congress’s website. For example, if you want to find books about cookies, type in “cookies” and you’ll get the results below. This tells you that you can search just for “cookies” as a subject heading, or you could search for more specific results by using “Cookies (Computer Science)” or “Cookies–France–History.” Yes, it can get very specific.

Library of Congress cookies subject headings

B) Another sort of backdoor way to find a subject heading is to use the subject heading from a similar book that you already know. For example, if you love Susan Goodman’s book “All in Just One Cookie” and want to find more children’s books about cookies, you can search for “All in Just One Cookie” under title or for “Goodman, Susan” under author in EDUCAT. Click on the title of the book to see the catalog record. It should look like this:Catalog record for All in Just One Cookie

From here, click on the “full record” tab. You will see the full record, including the official Library of Congress subject headings for that book. Here, you can see that the subject heading for children’s books about cookies is “Cookies–Juvenile literature.” Now you can use that subject heading to search for other books with the same subject.

2. Now use your subject heading to search the TC library catalog.

Once you have your subject heading, you are ready to search the TC library catalog using it. Follow the steps below.

1) Open the TC library catalog, EDUCAT.

2) Select the blue “subject” tab.

3) Type in your subject heading and click “submit.”

4) Several things can then happen. If you see a list of book titles, wonderful! Go ahead and browse the list according to your interests. For example, if I search “cookies–juvenile literature,” I get this list of books in the TC catalog:

However nice it is to have a list of books, it is much more common to get a list of different, more specific subjects at this point. A list of more specific subjects for “dogs,” for example, would look something like this:

If you see a list of subjects, then browse through this list for the one that fits your interests best. If the list is too long, then you may need to refine your search with a more specific subject heading. Refer to the Library of Congress website again, or contact a librarian if you’re starting to get frustrated.