Making the Most of Your Library

Part 8 -- Bibliographies and Union Catalogs

Copyright 1991, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

Originally appeared in SF&FW Newsletter #131, August 1992

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This article originally appeared in Science Fiction & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter

Like indexes, which I discussed in the last part, bibliographies and union catalogs provide access to items that are likely to have the desired information, rather than the information itself. But unlike indexes, which provide access to items that are a part of a larger whole, bibliographies and union catalogs provide access to whole items -- books, periodicals and other library materials.

Most people are familiar with bibliographies of some kind. Probably everyone has had to prepare a bibliography for a research paper in some class or another, and almost everyone has seen the bibliographies at the ends of articles in encyclopedias or in journal articles. But while these bibliographies provide the sources used in compiling the work, or lists of suggested reading, there is another kind of bibliography. This is the subject bibliography, which provides a comprehensive list of all the works available in a particular discipline. Subject bibliographies are frequently subdivided into chapters each covering one particular area within the discipline. It is frequently more productive when doing research to consult a subject bibliography to find titles and authors of suitable works and then consult the title-author section of the local library catalog rather than simply dive into the subject catalog.

Then there is the Guide to Reference Books edited by Eugene Sheehy, which is the “reference librarian’s Bible.” It is a master bibliography of reference tools, divided by subject area and thoroughally indexed. If your library keeps it on the open reference shelves it should be the first thing you consult before beginning an in-depth research project. It can direct you to all manner of subject bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories and a whole wealth of other ttools that you might otherwise never have discovered.

Union catalogs are another resource that many people have used without being aware of it. For instance the main card catalog for a library with a number of branches or departments is a union catalog. Another form of union catalog is the online public access catalog which has the holdings of all the libraries in the system rather than simply the holdings of the library in which it is found. Similarly the Library of Congress has compiled a union catalog which combines the holdings of a large number of US research libraries into a single list printed in bound volumes. Although it is difficult to search because the supplements are a separate alphabet from the main union catalog and thus must be searched individually in order to insure complete coverage, it enables a researcher to ascertain that the item in question does indeed exist and is held by one or more libraries within the US. The researcher can then take the information to the library's interlibrary-loan department and request the book if it is not held locally.

Bibliographies and union catalogs enable a person to find books on a given subject and to discover their location if they are not held locally.

Copyright 1990, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

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