Subject Searching

What is a subject search?

A subject search allows one to browse for items by subject heading. As a result, it is important to enter subject headings in the proper order. If you wish to do a "free text" search for your subject words, use the Keyword Search.

Back to Top

Topical subject headings

The Catalog uses subject headings that have been established by the Library of Congress. This gathers all items on a particular topic together using one uniform term. For example, instead of having to search for both nuclear weapons and atomic weapons, all items on this topic are listed under "nuclear weapons."

Nuclear weapons ... instead of Atomic weapons
Indians of North America ... instead of Native Americans
Devaluation of currency ... instead of Currency devaluation

Back to Top


Names as Subject Headings

Subject headings can also be titles and names used as subjects (including personal, corporate, conference and geographic names). Note that personal names are searched last name first, but the titles of literary works, such as Jane Eyre, are not.

frost, robert Finds items about the poet, Robert Frost
jane eyre ... about the novel, "Jane Eyre"
world trade organization ... about an organization or corporation
yalta conference (1945) ... about a conference or meeting
Canada -- History ... about a political or geographical entity
Empire State Building ... about a building or a work of art

Back to Top


Punctuation & Case

Punctuation and case is ignored by the catalog when searching. "Frost, Robert" retrieves the same results as "frost robert."

Back to Top


What if I don't know the proper subject heading for my topic?

If you don't know the proper subject heading, enter the heading you think it might be. If your search matches the subject heading list, it will show you all the relevant headings along with links to related subjects.


•If your subject search does not match the available subject heading list:

You will be given a cross-reference to the correct term. For example, a search for "World War I" will direct you to the correct heading, "World War, 1914-1918."
•If a suitable cross-reference does not exist for your search:
It will show nearby subject headings. For example, a subject search for "Colombia -- Drugs" does not retrieve any relevant subject headings, but several adjacent headings begin with "Colombia -- Drug Traffic..."
It will also give you the option to re-execute the search using the "Search as Words" link, which performs a keyword search. For example, a subject search for "energy crisis" does not retrieve any relevant subject headings, but following the "Search as Words" link will find several relevant items. Then you can follow the hotlinked subject headings from these items to find additional materials.

Back to Top


Rotated Subject Headings

In order to make subjects easier to find, they are rotated. Subject headings are often constructed of specific parts that are placed in a certain order. The topic, or first part, can be followed by one or more subdivisions. However, since not everyone knows this order, the headings are entered in the index several times, with the subdivisions in rotated order. For example, "Society of Friends--Civil War, 1861-1865--Pennsylvania" is also searchable as "Pennsylvania--Society of Friends--Civil War, 1861-1865" and as "Civil War, 1861-1865--Society of Friends--Pennsylvania".

Some subject subdivisions are not rotated. Examples include any that begin with a number (e.g. 20th century), as well as a short list of commonly used terms. A partial list of the most commonly used subdivisions that are not rotated is:

  • Bibliography
  • Biography
  • History
  • Periodicals
  • United States

For a complete list of subject headings not rotated, follow this link.

If the subject terms you want to search are not rotated and you are not sure of the proper order, use the keyword search option. For example, a possible search statement could be:

s:(history and united states and 20th century)

The "s:" specifies that the words within the parentheses must be subject headings. If you don't use the parentheses, you must specifiy the field name for each word or phrase.

Back to Top


Limiting & Sorting your subject search

If you retrieve too many items from your subject search, click on the Limit/Sort button to narrow down your result set. Examples of limits that are commonly used with subject searches are listed below. The only available sort option is by date, from latest publication date to the earliest.

For information on all available Limit/Sort options, follow this link.

vietnamese conflict Limit to:
... Music Recordings
... Spoken Word Recordings
... CD-ROMs
... Videos/DVDs

Back to Top


The help I need isn't here...

Please contact a Reference Librarian for assistance with the problem you're having.


Back to Top