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University of York Library
Library Subject Guides

Searching for information: a practical guide


Searching for information is not always straightforward. We got a bunch of librarians to suggest some insider pointers and useful techniques.

Searching for information in a physical Library

In our increasingly online world, it's easy to forget that for centuries we've been storing information in physical Libraries. And we've been retrieving information from them too...

Searching the catalogue

One way of finding information from physical books is to use the Library Catalogue. Our catalogue is called YorSearch, and we've got a whole page about how best to use it:


A shelf of books from the media section

Catalogues like YorSearch do let you browse the collections in various ways. You can do a subject or keyword search, or even look at a virtual version of the shelves. But it can be a lot easier to just go and look at some real life shelves of books!


Most libraries (our own included) are organised by subject, so all the books on a particular shelf or set of shelves will be on the same or similar themes.

Finding the shelves you need

If you're doing research on a particular topic, you might find it useful to find the shelves for that subject and scan them for anything that looks like it might be relevant. If you're not sure where to look, try to find at least one book on the subject in YorSearch and take a note of its location. If we've got one item on a subject, the chances are that there are a lot more sat on the same shelf!

Sometimes there will be books on a similar topic in more than one area of the library, either because that topic crosses over into another similar topic that's shelved somewhere else, or because of the format of the book itself: for instance, we often shelve big books (Quarto books) on a separate run of shelves to normal-sized books, to make better use of space, and really big books (Folios) in another section of even bigger shelves. So a book about cats could be at XL 6 - Ordinary in the Biology section on the third floor, or it could be in XL 6 - Quarto in the Quartos section on the third floor. And it could be in A 79.3 on the second floor if talking about cats philosophically, or any number of other locations depending on what aspect of cats it is you're researching. There might even be cat books in special collections housed elsewhere in the Library. But most of the cat books will probably be in that XL section, so that might be the best place to browse first!

Asking a Librarian

It's absolutely legitimate to ask library staff for help in finding something (and we like it when you do!). It's like asking a shop assistant where the vegan cheese is this week. It's kind of what we're here for. You can ask at the Library helpdesk for help finding a particular collection, while your Faculty Librarians are your main contacts for help with identifying specific resources for your subject.

Everything you wanted to know about the library...

What's this Library thing and how do you begin to use it? We sent our Digital Wednesdays crew into the big concrete building on the hill and they sent back these slides:

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