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Search Strategies: Subject Searches

Search tips for using DiscoverE, Google, WorldCat, and Databases

LC Subject Headings

When you "tag" an item online or enter your own keywords into a search box, you may be using your own personal system of categories.  Online databases often also use subject categories according to a system of their own devising which may have its own internal logic but may not necessarily correspond with those in other databases.  Library of Congress subject headings are a controlled set of standardized keywords used to describe bibliographic items in virtually all research university libraries. They can therefore be useful in locating items in EUCLID and in the WorldCat union catalog or any individual university catalog. Use them to find items for which you do not have author or title information or to extend your search beyond known items. They are very useful but, like everything else, not 100% reliable.  Note the following caveats.

  • No title has every possible subject heading assigned to its catalog record; usually only one or two.
  • Given the fluidity of academic discourse, LC subject headings may not correspond precisely to categories now in currency in the discipline.

Here are some techniques for using the subject headings in EUCLID searches.

  • To limit your search to reference works. Type the subject heading (minus the dashes) into the Subject field in the Complex Search screen and select Reference in the Location field.
  • To generate an alphabetical list of related subject headings beginning with the one you type into the search field: In Quick Search, click the Browse radio button then click the Subject button. Indicated in parentheses will be the number of items in the catalog that have the subject heading in their record. Click the subject heading to see those items listed. This technique is useful to find related subject headings in case the one you use is attached to no items or few items.
  • To limit your search:  If relevant, you can limit to a specific geographical location. Type in the subject heading and add the geographical location (e.g., History + India).
  • To expand your search. Type the subject heading keywords into the Quick Search screen minus the dashes and use truncation and the wildcard symbol $ (e.g., anthropolog$ religio$). Click the Keyword radio button and then the Subject button.
  • To find relevant items lacking subject headings. If your search does generate some hits, many of the items missed will likely be in the same call number range(s) as items you do find. Note the call numbers of relevant items in the search results list, and use the Browse Shelf screen to look for others. Use only the first part of the call number, before the first decimal point, to start with; if that places you in the wrong place, try using the call number up to the second decimal point (eliminating all spaces), and so on.
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