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The Spire Project: Finding the Library
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Libraries are integral parts to the research process, if for no other reason than public funds are used to buy the expensive research tools you will occasionally use. More and more libraries are extending their reference collections to include CD-ROMs and computer resources.

Specialty libraries are special. Focus allows for far greater expertise and innovative research resources. Specialty libraries are prime research venues, and specialty librarians are considerable reservoirs of research expertise. All government agencies, and many large corporations & wealthy associations, have specialty libraries. While many may not invite public access, almost all are universally open to you.


to article list Internationally Important Library Catalogues
The [US] Library of Congress includes over 11 million books. This is truly one of the great libraries of the world. The new Library of Congress Online Catalogue ( has superceded the earlier catalogue & experimental search system. You will most likely start with a title/subject/author search. ISBN numbers can be found by selecting Full Record on each entry while links to relevant subject headings by selecting Subject/Content. These ample internal links mean we should start with a search for a suitable title - then expand to locate other books by the same author or subject. For technically difficult searches, the command interface remains (see its help file). Limits may be added at any time. General help files are aplenty with further descriptions from the commercial database retailers who on-sell this information.

Alternatively, we can use our script to search the Library of Congress Online Catalogue.
Subject Browse Name Browse Title Serial Title Call Number Browse

Click "full record" to get further details. Limits may be added at any time and there are plenty of general help files.
The British Library, ( has their card catalogue free online. One of the primary book catalogues of the world, you search the material held in their Major Reference and Document Supply collections. Unfortunately this database closes 4 hours a day (their midnight to 4am), Sundays & English bank holidays. Further descriptions can be found from the British Library website.
Copac, ( a unified access to the online catalogues of some of the largest research university libraries in the UK and Ireland, has an author/title, subject and a periodical search.
The National Library of Australia has their catalog online. Search their full catalogue here or their periodical catalogue here.
database The National Library of Canada ( has a Web-based catalogue online 14 hours a day and on weekend (see description). They also have a variety of other search tools and leads.

to article list Finding Libraries Online
If you are looking for the address to a specific library catalogue, consider these sources:
Libweb is one of the better global lists of library catalogues on the web, particularly if you know a name.
webpage Libdex is another of the better global lists, particularly if you don't know a name. Libdex has a country index.
webpage National Library Catalogues Worldwide is maintained at the University of Queensland.
database For European National Libraries, consider Gabriel as a way to find and search the websites of a list of European National Libraries.
webpage Many of the OPAC US libraries are listed by the [US] Library of Congress.
webpage Lastly, for more library links visit this NLA page.

to article list Australia
database The definitive and exhaustive list of Australian Libraries, (big, small and specialist) is part of the Australian Libraries Gateway, maintained by the National Library of Australia.
Search for:
Type of Library : Be tempted to select a state, a library type and leave the name blank. This retrieves a list of all relevant libraries. Further notes provide address, webpage and phone numbers to specific libraries.
database The National Library of Australia Catalogue is online. Search their full catalogue here or their periodical catalogue here.


to article list Compound Resources
Specialty Libraries are a brilliant resource for two reasons. Firstly, many of the unique resources reside here but secondly the specialty librarians are experts in resources for their area. Some libraries do not invite public access but will be almost universally open to you if you smile.
book Directory of Special Libraries in Australia by ALIA lists 1400 specialist libraries. Other countries will most certainly have similar directories.
Secondly, a collection of mixed information directories are emerging: directories that list associations, directories, books, research centers, museum collections and government departments all together.
Croner's A-Z of [UK] Business Information Sources and the Aslib Directory of Information Sources in the United Kingdom are prominent examples. These directories appear to be less than definitive but the ASLIB Directory (the larger of the two at 1500+ pages) is certainly something to consider if you live in the UK. As an example, Aslib, under the subject "Egypt" lists the British Museum, the Egypt Exploration Society, the Tutankhamun Exhibition, and the York College of Further & Higher Education. Aslib provides really good contact details for these sources.


to article list Commercial Resources
As expected, since the more important resources here are directories, some database retailers offer these directories as searchable databases.
database American Library Directory. Further descriptions can be found from SilverPlatter or Dialog.


Article ListResearch CommentarySeminar datesUpdate Notices There are several search techniques associated with library catalogues. Beyond the simple author/title/subject search, we should also consider searching by Dewey number, and searching first for any title we know would interest us - then selecting the subject fields that appear in that book's entry.

Dewey Searching
The Dewey decimal system is similar in many ways to the patent classification system. Each step is divided into 10 - getting more and more specific. See this CAL State Dewey list to get an idea of its structure. This number here refers to a book called Australian government assistance to local government projects:

The Dewey system is arranged by Discipline, not subject groupings. Each digit to the right becomes progressively more detailed. The system works well in organizing books - and libraries expand it to suit their needs - but it is different from a subject catalogue. Because it is arranged by discipline, subject fields may be split.

In searching, we want to duplicate the walk to the shelves and browsing other publications which share similar numbers. We do this electronically by searching/browsing books which share most of a number. Drop a digit - expand the field of interest.

The Dewey system is a bit congested in certain areas, giving rise to very long numbers. For this and historical reasons, several national libraries do not use the Dewey system. The Library of Congress, for example, has its own classification scheme (Outlined here).

Subject Searching
We can do better than searching the subject index of a library catalogue. Try instead to search for a book which interests you - which you can usually find easily with a simple title search - and then selecting the subjects that book are indexed under.

Many of the library catalogues are making this particularly easy by incorporating links into the catalogue results. A quick look at the Library of Congress, for example, will show how all the subject fields are linked to further searching.

We can show this in action by looking at the book Earth Time by David Suzuki, at my State Library. As you can see down the bottom, it is indexed under Social Ecology and Human Ecology.

This kind of 'locate then expand' is an effective search technique used in a number of situations. In commercial databases, we may search for a company then expand to make sure we catch any different company spellings. We may also wish to search for a book, then search for books by the same publisher.

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