Looking for a Specific Book?
Need to find a specific book? Search for the title of the book you're looking for ("quotation marks" around words search for an exact phrase) from the main search box (or Catalog link). See the tutorial on finding a book!
Looking for Books on a Topic?
Looking for books on a topic? See this tutorial on searching the library catalog to see how to do a very general keyword search for your subject in the library catalog, find a relevant book, check under Availability to see how you can access it in print (look for the library, call number [book location] and availability) or online (look for the full text link), and find the subject headings.
Find the Subject Headings!
Subject headings (aka subjects, subject terms, or descriptors) are ways that many databases and library catalogs categorize all items about a particular idea (not just items that mention an idea briefly). For example, you can search for the keyword sustainability (which could show up anywhere and only be briefly mentioned) or you can find a relevant item, look at the subject heading and click on the linked subject to find all the other materials that are all about that idea. You can also search again by subject headings. You'll probably find there's more than one subject heading that might apply to your topic and searching by these can make your search much more precise. For example, not only is sustainability a subject heading in the library catalog, but also sustainable development, natural resources management, etc.
Subject headings are like tags that collect all the books about a given subject, but they're standardized and assigned by librarians.
Below is a guide from Western University in Ontario about Subject Headings. While this guide is an example from a different university, the concepts and skills illustrated here translate well to databases at Cornell.
Need to find it on the shelves?
If you need to find a physical item on the shelves this guide (though designed for Olin Library) explains the general process. Their library research guide also explains,
"We use Library of Congress call numbers to shelve our books and bound periodicals. For a brief introduction, ask at reference for our Library of Congress Classification handout or see this web site: Library of Congress Classification Outline."
When you find a book's library location and call number, you can go to the library and look at the stacks maps to see where that call number is located in the library.