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If you are looking for books (and other materials such as videos) on your research topic you may want to search library catalogues.

Keep in mind that you cannot search for journal articles in a library catalogue, only the titles of the journals themselves. Do not use a library catalogue if you want to find journal articles--you must use a journal database instead.

AUCAT is the name of the online catalogue of holdings for Athabasca University Library. As an AU student, you are able to request materials from this catalogue to be sent to you free of charge. The Library has a collection of over 140,000 items and provides access to more than 7000 journals either electronically or in print.

Library catalogues provide you with different ways to search: author, title, keyword, subject, call number, etc. When researching a topic, you will find keyword and subject searches especially useful. It is important to be aware of the differences between these two search types.

Keyword search

Keyword searching is a way to search using everyday language. Librarians use a specialized controlled vocabulary, called subject headings, to describe library materials. Keyword searching permits you to search on terms that naturally describe your topic (for example, words that might appear in the title of a book on the topic). A keyword search will look for the specified terms in a number of different fields of the catalogue record such as title, subject, and contents notes.

Let's try a keyword search in AUCAT for information on our sample research topic: How can a healthy body image be promoted to adolescent girls?

View a keyword search for (body image or self-perception) and (adolescen* or teen*)


Research tip: When searching a library catalogue it is best not to include too many concepts that would narrow your search. Remember you are not searching the full text of a book, but rather indexed fields such as title and subject. The record for the book in the catalogue may not include the word "teenage" or "adolescent", but there could still be a chapter or section in the book that is specific to that age group.

Try searching by keyword in AUCAT for books about your research topic.


Subject search

When you search by subject, you are searching for a subject heading that has been assigned to an item by a librarian. A subject heading is a standardized term used to describe a particular topic and it allows you to search for material using one heading. For example, although many words can be used to describe the movies (e.g. film, cinema) you can search for all of the books about movies under the heading "motion pictures". Of course the drawback to this approach is that sometimes subject headings are quite different from the everyday language we use: when was the last time you said I saw a really great motion picture last weekend ?

There are a number of ways to find out subject headings for your topic:

  • The subject headings you will most commonly encounter in libraries are the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). If you have physical access to a library, you can check the LCSH (popularly known as "the big red books") to see what vocabulary is used in library catalogues to describe your topic. In addition to LCSH, you will find that most Canadian libraries also use Canadian Subject Headings (CSH).
  • You can also try guessing at subject headings. Some library catalogues use cross-references that will direct from an unused heading to one that is used in the catalogue.
  • A frequently used approach is to search by keyword and once you locate an item that looks relevant examine the subject headings assigned to that item and then search on those.
  • View a list of some subject headings that are useful in researching Women's Studies topics.

View a subject search for body image.


Try searching by subject in AUCAT for books about your research topic.


Call numbers

If you have physical access to a library's collection, once you locate some books on your topic in the catalogue, you may want to try browsing the shelves under the call numbers you've gathered. AUCAT also allows you to search and browse by call number.

Requesting materials

If you locate items in AUCAT that you wish to borrow, you can submit an online request to have items sent to you using the "Request this Item" feature or you can contact AU Library. Consult a help page for details on how to use this feature.


Helpful links:

Learn more about searching AUCAT.

Search other library catalogues.

Find out about getting borrowing privileges at other libraries through TAL and CURBA.


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