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Introduction to Research: Finding Books

This is a brief introduction to research in the Library, how to decide on a research topic, how to find relevant materials and how to cite them.

When to Use Books

Books are helpful when:

  • You need a broad overview of a topic.  Example: Earthquakes.

Books may not be as helpful when:

  • The topic is very recent.  Books take a long time to get written and published.  Example: Information about an earthquake that happened last night.
  • You have a fairly narrow topic. Example: If you are writing on the Northridge Earthquake, you may not find an entire book on that earthquake. 

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Finding Books

Enter search terms below  to find books and media in the SMC Library’s collection.

Search the Library Catalog


If you want to find out which books our library owns, you would check the SMC Library catalog, which lists the books and other materials that the library owns. 

You may look for books in the catalog by author, title, or by your subject.  If you want to see if the library owns a particular book, then you would search for the book in the catalog by either the title or the author

If you are looking for information on a topic and do not have a specific book in mind, you would search the catalog by subject.

Finding Books on the Shelf

The library catalog gives you the information you will need to locate the book.  On the example record below, there is a section titled Holdings.  The information in this section includes the call number, the number of copies, which location within the library the book is shelved, and whether or not the book is checked out.

 SMC Library catalog results

Call numbers are similar to a house address.  It tells us where the book is shelved on the book shelves (also called “stacks.”)  Each book in the library has a unique call number, so it is important to write down the entire number. Most college libraries use the Library of Congress call number system, which consists of letters and numbers. 

The nice thing about call numbers is that they group books on similar topics together, so when you go to the book stacks, you may find other books on your topic nearby.