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EH 300: Introduction to Literature Study: Finding and Using Books


To find books and government documents in USA Libraries' collections, use SOUTHcat: USA Libraries' Catalog.

  • Catalog tips and tricks:
    • Keyword searches – use quotation marks to hold phrases together ("greek mythology")
    • Truncation – use ? after the root of a word to find all its variants (god?, finds both gods and goddesses)
    • Browse the Subject(s) field in records to find the right words for searches. (Example: Try doing a keyword search for "greek mythology" poems then look at the subject(s) field in several records. You’ll see that the subject term could be Mythology, Greek -- Poetry. Click the subject heading to find more records with this subject.)
  • Revise and refine your searches. Combine words or phrases.
  • Watch for repeating call numbers and browse stacks in that area.
  • Pay attention to the Location and Status fields. You will need this information to locate the item in the library.

Something to Keep in Mind

Remember, when conducting research in a literary topic, think outside of the simple author or title search.  Instead think broadly at the types of issues or tropes of interest.

Example: Gender AND literature 

masculinity AND literature

masculinity AND "20th century"

film AND literature AND adaptation



Searching SOUTHcat

Search techniques may vary with each database, so look at help screens or ask a librarian for suggestions about using quotation marks and truncation symbols.

Leave out the word "and" when doing a keyword search on SOUTHcat, since this is automatically added if the phrase is not in quotes. Put phrases in quotation marks to search as a phrase. Use ? as a truncation or wildcard symbol in the catalog. Use Advanced Boolean Search for combinations of concepts and phrases.

Subscription E-Books

The USA Libraries subscribe to several subscription e-book collections. These collections tend to focus on a specific discipline or field of study in their coverage.

How to Use a Book

How to Gut a Book

  • Table of Contents--this is a DUH!
  • Read the intro chapter (or chapter one as the case may be) closely.
    • The author(s) *should* lay out their thesis and basic sub arguments here–even stubborn authors like myself succumb to editorial pressure and start writing sentences like “In this book I argue…” Look for “keywords” that are associated with that scholar(s) to discern what they’re going to do. Here they often give a lineup of what is to come in each subsequent chapter or essay.
  • Read the first few paragraphs and the last few paragraphs of each chapter carefully looking for specific patterns and evidence proffered in relation to the thesis.
    • look for subheadings–stop at these–the title will give you clues to the sub-arguments that the author is using to establish her thesis. 
    • the last few paragraphs probably link back to BOTH the main thesis and the sub-argument of the chapter. Read these closely.
  •  Read the conclusion closely.
    • the conclusion should wrap back around and reiterate the thesis while also suggesting links to sub-arguments and also ways forward for piggyback research etc.
  • Read any extended or block quotes in a chapter. 
    • If a scholar is using precious page space to quote another scholar or author at length then it’s significant…either because it supports the primary scholar’s argument (or he/she has built his/her argument out of that scholar’s idea) OR the primary scholar is trying to dispute the quoted scholar.  Either way, it’s important to understanding the primary argument.
  • Read footnotes (or endnotes as the case may be) & the bibliography

    • scholars are notorious for “hiding” some of their best, and most illuminating, ideas in the notes.  
    • one can also build one’s own bibliography from other’s bibliographies and footnotes, always make your own “to read” list--pearl growing. 
  • Use the index--another DUH!