Searching for Textbooks

| March 9, 2012

If you are part of Teachers College, whether as a student, faculty member, or visiting scholar, it’s likely that you will need to search for textbooks at the library at some point. Perhaps it’s a middle school earth science textbook you need to evaluate for a class at TC, or perhaps it’s an elementary math textbook you need for a lesson plan. This is intended as a guide to searching for those elusive textbooks on the Teachers College catalog EDUCAT.

1. Know the subject heading “formula.”

For an introduction to subject headings and searching by them in EDUCAT, see Searching by Subject on EDUCAT.

Textbooks have particularly tricky subject headings. The usual format for them is this:

[school subject]–Study and Teaching ([level])

This format works for almost all subjects and levels. For example, if I want to find geography textbooks for elementary school children or art textbooks for continuing education students, I would search, respectively:

Geography–Study and Teaching (elementary)

Art–Study and Teaching (continuing education)

A few things to be aware of here is that the names of the subjects and levels are not always intuitive.

For example, you need to search “mathematics” not “math” as a subject. To check for the authoritative subject heading for the subject you are interested in, you can consult the Library of Congress’s Authorities, or just ask a librarian.

Here is a list of the possible terms for levels:

  • Early childhood
  • Preschool
  • Primary
  • Middle school
  • Secondary
  • Higher
  • Graduate
  • Continuing Education (or sometimes just “Continuing”)

2. Be specific…

When you click submit, you will likely see a list of more specific subjects as your initial result. If you have used a rather generic subject, you will likely get an overwhelming list of more specific subjects. For example, when I search for “Science–Study and teaching,” I get 444 more specific versions of this subject, and the first option contains 530 books, as you can see below:

Search results "Science--study and teaching" showing 444 more specific subject results in a list

However, when I search for “Chemistry–study and teaching (secondary),” I get a much more manageable list of 13 more specific subject headings. In this case, I can see that the first result has only 33 books, so I can click on that result and browse those books easily.

Search results for "chemistry--study and teaching (secondary)" showing 13 more specific subject headings

3. …but don’t be too specific.

Searching by subject is a tricky business, and sometimes EDUCAT will just not want to be as specific as you do.

For example, suppose I am interested in textbooks about flowers to teach a biology lesson to sixth graders. If I search “flowers–study and teaching (sixth grade)” or “flowers and biology–study and teaching (middle school),” I won’t get any results. However, if I search for “biology–study and teaching (middle school),” I will.

4. Sort your results by reverse year.

When you click on a subject heading after your initial search, EDUCAT often defaults to giving you catalog records starting with the oldest books first.

For example, our above search for “biology–study and teaching (middle school)” returns a book from 1964 first, followed by one from 2001 and then one from 2006. Since this can be cumbersome and confusing for longer lists of results, it is often helpful to sort your results by reverse year. To do this, click on the drop-down list on the top right of the results page (it usually says “System Sorted”), choose “Reverse Year,” and then click “Sort.”

5. “Textbook” is a whole other subject.

It might seem non-intuitive, but if you search “textbook” as a subject, you won’t get textbooks, you will get books that are about textbooks, that is, they have textbooks as their subject.

Furthermore, EDUCAT is not well-suited to search for this term. For one reason or another, the results of these searches are often limited, and sometimes the results are entirely books in one foreign language. For example, when I search “textbooks–biology,” the results are almost exclusively dated and in Japanese. So, honestly, it’s usually best to just avoid searching for the word “textbook” as a subject in EDUCAT.

If you want to find books about teaching biology, the better way to search for this is to do an advanced boolean search for “biology AND teaching.” As you see below, the results are far more relevant.

Search results for "teaching AND biology" in an advanced boolean search

As always, if you have questions, just ask a librarian or make an appointment for research consultation.