Why Use Library Catalogs

Updated April 7, 2010.

Library catalogs give you information about the books, documents, videos, and journals that a library owns. They often link to online resources, as well. These sources can provide you with an overview of a topic and references to other material.

Sometimes you use a catalog to find a source you already know - you just want to find out whether this library owns it, where it is located, and if it is already checked out.

At other times, you use a catalog to find books and other materials on a topic you are researching - you want to find out what is available, in this Library or in other libraries.

You can search online catalogs several ways, including:

  • names of authors, editors, and compilers
  • titles of books government reports, periodicals, and other sources
  • keywords and subject terms

Most library catalogs do not index individual articles within journals. To find articles, you may need to use a periodical index, such as LegalTrac. However, the next generation of library catalogs--like WorldCat--include citations to articles from selected sources. [More about WorldCat]

Libraries may own some material that are not described in their catalogs. For instance, some government publications owned by the Law Library and the UW Libraries are not included in their catalogs. Always consult a reference librarian for assistance if you cannot locate an item using the catalog.

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