How do I find books?

Don’t be embarrassed if you need help finding books – if you haven’t looked before, why would you know how to find them? Before reading more, though, it’s important to note: to get relevant search results, think about the words you type into the catalogue.  See the blog post on Keywords for help with this step.

To find books, you can start at one of two different places.  The first is the Beryl Ivey Library homepage: there you will see that the default search says “Search Summon for Books, Articles and More.”  As the title suggests, searching here brings up books, but it also brings up journal articles, government information, and everything else the library carries.  You can limit your results list to just “Books” using the refinement on the left of Summon (see screen shot below), but this isn’t always the most effective.

One of our lovely librarians finding a book in the stacks.

A better way to search for books is to start at the Shared Library Catalogue.  You can find this either from the Beryl Ivey homepage or from Western Libraries: click the “Catalogue” tab or head straight to:  The catalogue is a big list of what we own at every campus library (including Brescia, King’s, Huron and St. Peters; and Weldon, Taylor, Music, Law, Business, Education and the ARCC).

Once you’re at the Catalogue, try the following steps:

  1. Click the “keyword” tab to open that screen. Type in keywords that relate to your topic (e.g. diabetes AND treatment)
  2. Review the results.  These are displayed in order of relevancy (you’ll notice I did a poor search – 1560+ results is WAY too many!):Jul 17 - diabetes and treatment.jpg
  3. Click the title from your results page to find more information: Jul 31 - diabetes and treatment 2
  4. Look at the Location to find out which inter-campus library holds the book (in this case, the book is at Brescia, which is indicated through Brescia General Collection
  5. Click on the location to find out more information (i.e. in the above example, clicking on Brescia General Collection tells me where to go in the library to find the book)
  6. Record the Call Number if you want to go get the book yourself
  7. Make sure the book isn’t checked out (“In Library” means it’s on the shelf)
  8. Click the Request Itembutton at the top of the screen to have the book delivered to Brescia (or whichever library you’d like)
  9. Mark the book to put it in your “shopping cart.”  You can then email or print out your list for future use.

Looking for books the first time inevitably leads to other questions: what does “stacks” mean, how do you read a call number, etc. You can always come ask a librarian – but if you’re off-campus, a quick way to find these answers it to use the Ask service on Western Libraries’ website.

In order to get the results you want, it’s important to think about the words you use while searching.  See the blog post on “Keywords” to learn more about how the catalogue functions. In order to get the results you want, it’s important to think about the words you use while searching.  See the blog post on “Keywords” to learn more about how the catalogue functions.

Getting relevant results: keywords

It’s impossible to get the most out of your search results without combining keywords, Boolean Operators and search tips – make sure to read all three blog posts!

The words you use when searching for information really matter.  This is the case whether you’re looking for books, journals, or searching Google.  Remember: computers are dumb and are bad at mind reading.  You need to be very specific when you’re telling them what you need.

So, if you’re not getting the search results you want, try making a list of words relating to your topic (try to make them specific about what information you’re trying to find).  Then make a list of synonyms for those words:

History Example

I’m supposed to write an essay on the secret police in the Soviet Union.

So, my keywords could include: secret police, Soviet Union

Here are my synonyms for those words:

  • Soviet Union
    • Russia
    • USSR
    • Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
  • Secret Police
    • NKVD
    • People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs

Foods and Nutrition Example
I need to find information on the benefits of alternative treatments for type two diabetes (i.e. other than insulin).

So, my keywords could include diabetes, alternative treatment, and benefits.

Here are my synonyms for those words:

  • type two diabetes
    • diabetes, type 2 (word order matters)
    • diabetes mellitus
  • alternative treatment
    • alternative treatments
    • alternative therapy/therapies (plurals matter)
    • diet (a form of alternative therapy)
    • nutrition
    • nutrition therapy
    • exercise
  • benefits
    • Common words like “benefits,” “advantages”, etc, often aren’t helpful as keywords as they appear in so many articles. Use with caution (or skip altogether!)

Now I have a whole range of words to try in online databases, in the library catalogue, etc.   Note that spelling (i.e. Canadian versus American), plurals, and word order matter!

If you need help coming up with your words, here are some places you can look:

  • Your textbook
  • Wikipedia (just for the keywords!)
  • Google (again, just for the keywords!)
  • An online encyclopedia

I advise you not to search for library material while coming up with your keywords – it can lead to frustration and wasted time!

Presearch: what to do before you research

It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of material available on your topic.  Another common problem is not have any relevant search results come up.

Both of these issues can be solved by a little pre-planning, or what I like to call “presearch.”  You’ll often come back to this step as you go through the research process.

  1. What questions do you have?
    Make a list of the questions you need to answer before you can write your assignment.  In the beginning, you’ll find this information in the assignment instructor your professor provided.  Later, your questions will likely develop after doing some reading.
  2. What information do you need?
    After figuring out what questions you need to answer, ask yourself: what information would help you answer these questions?  Before you start researching, this could include definitions of words in your assignment topic.  As you prepare to write your assignment, you might need to find some more specific examples in order to support your argument better.
  3. Where will you find this information?
    Knowing where to find different kinds of information takes practice.  If you’re totally unsure, don’t hesitate to ask a library staff person.  But here are some examples to get you started:

    • Definitions: check your textbook, encyclopedias on your topic, or dictionaries
    • Background information: again, check your textbook, check encyclopedias, or check general books on your topic
    • General information: for summaries on your topic and that kind of thing, check books and literature reviews (a type of journal article)
    • Specific information/current research: check journal articles.  Books would work, too.

    Other resource types you can consider, especially when rounding out your argument include: primary sources (i.e. newspaper articles, interviews, speeches, letters); reliable websites; and government information.

  4. What keywords can you come up with to describe your topic?
    Come up with a list of words and synonyms for those words, to type into Summon, or into subject databases and the library catalogue while you research.  Don’t forget: computers aren’t very smart and can’t predict your topic.  It’s really important, then, to type in exactly what you’re looking for – otherwise you’ll be likely to get garbage results.  (See “Keywords” blog post for more help with this).
  5. If you’re doing journal research, did Summon find enough good content? If not, what databases should you try?
    Again, this takes practice, but the library staff has helped with this task.  Check the Program Guide webpages on Western Libraries’ website or a list of databases on different subjects (i.e. Sociology, Foods and Nutrition, Religious Studies, Biology, etc).

Taking a few minutes to do some planning will honestly save you time in the long run.  Organizing your research before you start also helps to avoid confusion – and point out where you may have gone astray.