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Biological Searching in Library Catalogs

The HSU Library Catalog and catalogs of other libraries typically utitilize the same set of rules for cataloging resources. A book cataloged for the HSU Library most likely will be cataloged in the same way by other libraries. The only difference may be the search interface to the catalog.

Most catalogs can be searched by author, title, or subject. Since subject searching is often the most difficult to understand, the following general techniques and specific suggestions are offered for conducting subject searches of biological concepts. For general subject search strategy formulation that can be in catalogs and other databases see Searching the Scientific Literature.

  1. General Suggestions for Subject Searching

    1. Use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). Materials indexed are assigned an average of 2-3 subjects selected from 270,000 possible LCSH headings. The advantage of searching with LC Subject Headings is that materials with a similar theme are brought together under one valid subject rather than you having to come up with relevant synonyms. Library of Congress Subject Headings explains how to find these.
    2. Follow the "Rule of Specificity." Choose subjects which come closest to what you are searching. Books are indexed under the specific subjects which represent each book's subject content. Broad subjects often fail to retrieve desired information. Examples of LCSH subjects:
      water temperature
      rocks, igneous
      deep sea temperature
      red algae
    3. As you identify specific references note the LCSH subject headings under which they are indexed and use these same subjects to find other related items.

  2. Specific Approaches
    1. Searching for material on specific organisms - At the organism level common names are used in most cases rather than scientific nomenclature. At the Family and Order levels a combination of common and scientific nomenclature is used. Check LCSH for correct nomenclature. Remember the "Rule of Specificity" when searching. You will also have to decide at what taxonomic level you require information as part of your search strategy.

    2. Searching for material on the biology of organisms. There are many hundreds of specific subjects which treat the molecular, anatomical, physiological, behavioral, and evolutionary aspects of organisms. Use LCSH to find specific subjects. In some cases subjects are subdivided by major taxonomic divisions e.g., "Nervous System -Birds." There are also standard "pattern" subdivisions that can appear under any taxonomic term. See the subject Birds in LCSH for a listing of these subdivisions which can apply to all animals, e.g., "Birds - Behavior."

    3. Searching for material on a specific geographic area. A subject-oriented book which emphasizes a particular geographic area will be listed in most cases under the subject, then subdivided by the geographic area, e.g., a book on the birds of Humboldt County will be listed under "Birds - California - Humboldt County." Books which contain a geographic treatment on a specific organism are listed under at least two subjects:
      1. the organism nomenclature, e.g., "Peregrine Falcons"
      2. a higher level taxonomic term with a geographic subheading, e.g., "Birds - California"

      What this means is that you can find, e.g., under "Birds - California" all studies on specific birds in California.

    4. Searching for material on ecological concepts and techniques. Use LCSH as a guide to the many specific subjects used. Look under "Ecology" in LCSH for an extensive list of specific ecological subjects.