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Finding Library Resources by Subject: Home

This technique will help you find the most relevant resources for your research topic. You can try it in journal article databases, too!


Subject searches in the library catalog can be tricky. If you’ve used the subject search before, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes you get relevant results, and sometimes you get nothing. All of the APU Libraries’ resources are organized by subject --- specifically, by subjects that have been created by the Library of Congress (LC). When you do a subject search in the library catalog, you will get results if you happen to use an LC subject heading. If you don’t use an LC subject heading, you won’t get very much, if anything. So how do you know what these headings are? You can ask an APU Librarian to see the 5-volume set of fat, red books that contain all of the LC subject headings, or… You can use the following method to find the best subjects to use. Once you find the most relevant LC subject headings, you will also find everything the APU Libraries have for that subject.

Library Catalog Records


Back in the day, libraries used physical card catalogs with drawers and little index-sized cards that had information on the books in the library. Each book often had several cards in various drawers so they could be sorted by author/title and other cards that allowed them to be sorted by the subject matter they covered. While the majority of libraries now use electronic catalogs, the principles behind them are the same. Instead of index cards, catalogs are now made up of electronic “cards,” such as the one above. 

When you type in a term and perform a title search, the catalog looks for the term only in the “Title” section of the "card," and nowhere else. The author and subject searches are the same. However, in a keyword search, the catalog will look for the term everywhere in the card. Keyword searches will produce results lists that are larger and less relevant than author, title, and subject searches.

In an electronic catalog, it is possible to add links to each card. You will see several types of links: author, subject, and call number etc. By clicking on a subject link, you will get to a title list of all library resources available for that subject. Clicking on the author link will give you all the items by a particular author. The call number link allows you to see what items are on the shelf around the item you clicked on.

Finding the Subjects You Need

So how can you find the most relevant LC subjects for your topic? There are a few ways, some more efficient than others:

1. In the “Advanced” search box (, type in your term (keep it simple – one or two words only).

2. Choose "Subject" from the "Search Index" drop-down menu to the left of your search term, and click "Submit." This may not give you the results you are expecting. There is less leeway in what terms can be searched for subjects than in a regular keyword search. If you aren't finding helpful results with this method, move on to step #3.

A subject search will look for your terms in an alphabetical list of predetermined subjects (the Library of Congress created this list). If you don't get results, this doesn't mean that the libraries have nothing on your topic. It just means that you didn't use a term that is in the list of LC subjects.

3. Go back to the "Advanced" search, and choose “Keyword” from the drop-down menu to the left of the search box - enter the same search term(s).

In a keyword search, the catalog looks for your term to show up anywhere in each electronic card. In an author, title, or subject search, the catalog will only look in the corresponding section of the card (so when the dot is next to “Title,” it will only look for your term in the “Title” section of the card).

4. Click the “Submit” button.

5. In the resulting title list, look for something that’s relevant to your topic (such as the title below):

6. Click on the title link.

7. Look in the “Subject” section for LC subjects that are relevant to your topic – there six LC subjects listed in this sample from Brueggemann's Introduction to the Old Testament:

8. Most items in the catalog will have more than one subject listed. Choose a relevant subject link, and click on it – you will then see a list resources that share that same subject heading.

9. Then, click on the first title, and work through the list repeating steps 6 and 7 - you're looking in the "Subject" section of each item to find more subjects to find more relevant resources for your topic. As you find additional relevant subjects, you’ll want to repeat this process as many times as necessary in order to find as many relevant LC subjects as you can (and of course, you'll want to note the titles you want to check out).

11. Each time you go through a title list, jot down the LC subjects you find as you go so that you can use them to find journal articles in the journal article databases (instead of creating their own subjects, many of these databases borrow heavily from LC subjects when they assign subjects to the journal article “cards”).

Your Librarian

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Lindsey Sinnott
James L. Stamps Theological Library
Second Floor, 202B

Database Search Tips


Always click on the title links in results lists (in both library catalogs and journal article databases) - you will be taken to the full record where you'll find more information and those very valuable subject links.


Keep a running list of subjects that you find as you go along - you will probably be able to use these in other catalogs and databases.


Explore your search tool (whether it's a catalog or journal article database) by clicking on the 'help' or 'search tips' links - you will find information that will help you search more effectively.

Search Technique Summary

Step 1

Do a keyword search for your topic.

Step 2

Find a title in the results list that is relevant to your topic.

Step 3

Click on the title to access the full record, and then look for the most relevant subject in the 'Subject' section of the record.

Step 4

Click on the subject, and then go through the titles in full record view in order to find more relevant subjects.