Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

How to Search the Catalog: Searching

An introduction to searching the library catalog for books & more. The Library Catalog searches the library's home collection. This includes books, e-books, journals, DVDs, and media that we own or have electronic access to.

What is an Author?

Authors are the people or organization that created the item

If the item is a book, the author is the writer or the illustrator

If the item is a musical work, the author is the musician, composer, lyricist or the performers

If the item is a movie or film, the author is the director, writer(s), or the top billed actor


Author Searching Tips

When should you search by author?

  • to find all the books a particular author has written
  • to find music written or performed by a musician
  • to find a movie by a certain director
  • to find a report written by an organization


Most catalogs type the last name first, like this:

  • Jackson, Michael
  • Cole, Johnetta
  • King, Stephen

Title Searching

Choose a title search if you know the full title or the beginning of the title of the item

When should you search by title?

  • when you are sure of the title
  • when you know the first part or some words in the title
For a book, the title is usually on the cover
For movies or films, the title is the title

For written or recorded music,

the title is the name of the piece or album (usually not the name of a single track)

NOTE: If you do not know the full title of the book, and the words you know are not from the beginning of the title, search for the book with a keyword search. 

Keyword, Subject & Controlled Vocabulary


How to Find Subject Terms

The subject terms change for each database so you’ll have to explore each one on its own to discover the terms it uses. Most databases have a thesaurus or subject terms header you can click on to explore.

An excellent way to discover subject terms is to conduct a broad keyword search using the terms or phrases pertinent to your topic. Find a couple of results that closely match what you’re researching and explore the subject terms listed for those records.  Choose the subject terms that come closest to what you’re searching for and jot them down.

For example, here’s a record from Academic Search Complete found in a search for “death penalty”:

An effective type of searching involves the subject field and the subject terms. Subject terms use controlled vocabulary to resources that are about something under the same subject term, regardless of the words used by the authors.


For example, the death penalty and capital punishment mean the same thing; some people use “death penalty,” and others use “capital punishment.” This can cause problems when it comes to searching. If you conduct a keyword search using the phrase “death penalty” the computer only searches for items containing those exact words. It does not search for the term capital punishment even though capital punishment describes the same concept. You could miss a lot of important results!

SIMS Library