Finding materials in the library

This guide gives general advice on how to find information. If you have any difficulties library staff will do their best to help you.

First steps

When you need to research a new topic, it is worth spending a little time thinking about all the aspects of the topic that you need to cover. In the branch you use you will find general and specialised encyclopaedias and dictionaries which will help you get a general view of your subject and ensure you understand precisely the meaning of any technical terms and jargon. Encyclopaedias will also provide you with names of key people and references to the major books on the subject. Dictionaries will help you to compile a list of keywords with synonyms to use in your search for information. You may need to use very specific keywords to find specialised material in periodical indexes but you will also need some broader keywords to find relevant information included in books. If your topic is interdisciplinary or in a newly developing field of study you will have to think creatively about keywords.

The next step is to decide how much information you need, how up-to-date it needs to be, and the breadth and depth of information required. If you are preparing a seminar paper you will not need to make such an exhaustive search as you would need for a dissertation.

Searching Primo

You are now ready to search. The Primo library catalogue will give you details of books, periodicals, pamphlets and other materials held in AU libraries. It will also give you details of some articles contained within books or periodicals. If you have a reading list, remember that if a paper contained within a book or periodical is listed you will have to look up the author /title of the book or the title of the periodical.


It is best to use a variety of keywords to build up a full list of relevant titles; for example, keying in “fish” gives 510 items, whereas “fishes” gives 353 completely different items. Note that the truncated entry “fish?” would give a number of hits that is much greater than the sum of these two, namely 3107, as it includes unwanted terms like Fishguard, fishwife etc. – truncation must always be used with care. You could also key in more specific terms, e.g. fisheries (1524 items), salmon (172), cod (159), ichthyolog? (13). In this way a comprehensive list can be built up. The only way to make sure you find everything you need is to try as many ways as you can.


Primo will give you the location, classmark and number of books etc. The classmark is a number taken from the classification scheme which aims to put all books about the same subject together on the library shelves. Broader topics come first and are followed by books on more specialised aspects of the subject. You may expect that if a subject is fairly clearly defined like TELEVISION then all the material will be kept together on adjacent shelves. Very often, however, different aspects of a subject can be scattered. PN1992 is the Library of Congress classification number for TELEVISION BROADCASTING, but SPORTS BROADCASTING is GV718, EDUCATIONAL BROADCASTING is LB1044.8 and the social effects of TELEVISION on YOUNG PEOPLE is HQ799.2.T4.< /p>

Once you have found some useful items you can double- check for extra material by entering these numbers using the classmark option under a 'Simple Search' enquiry. You will be presented with a list of numbers which are similar to the one entered.

For more detailed information please see Understanding the library classification.

Finding materials on the shelves

It is important to remember that not all library material on a specific subject is kept in the same place. There are many Special Collections and a number of separate sequences and locations for specific types of materials. The following points are useful to know:

  • Recently used and recently returned material can be found on the rough sort shelves or on the book trolleys. If a book is marked returned/available today on the library catalogue please ask for it at the issue counter.
  • Oversize books are marked with Qto or Folio in the library catalogue. If in doubt,  please refer to the floor plan or ask library staff.
  • Some books may be housed in the Short Loan Collection. These materials are usually those which appear on reading lists and they will be marked Short Loan Collection on the library catalogue.
  • The Hugh Owen Library has a collection of Pamphlets which are marked Pam on the library catalogue and are available from the issue counter.


What are bibliographies?

A dictionary defines a bibliography as a list of books by one author or on one subject. When you are beginning an extensive research-based piece of work you will need to make a detailed survey of the literature already published on your chosen subject. Bibliographies are a good place to begin. They supplement the more basic lists of important works which you can find in encyclopaedias, providing either selective or exhaustive lists of books on the complete range of subjects. Items to be included in a bibliography may be selected in a variety of ways. Selection could, for example, be made on the basis of publication date the list comprising all works published before a certain date or later than a certain date. Alternatively works may be selected for their importance to the study of the subject; or because they are written by a particular type of writer ( for instance books by British authors, English language works, or works by women writers). It will be clear from the title or the introduction what are the criteria for inclusion. Exhaustive works try to list everything written about the subject.

Some bibliographies contain annotations which describe the contents of the works listed. These are very useful in helping you to get a feel of the subject and in helping you to decide which books you will need to use.

Because subject bibliographies are compiled relatively infrequently you will probably need to use bibliographies and references given in recent books on your subject or in the serial publications which describe recent developments in various subject areas.

How to find bibliographies

You can locate suitable bibliographies in several ways:

  • Add 'bibliography' or 'bibliographies' as a keyword in a simple keyword search in Primo e.g. historical literature bibliography
  • Use a reference work. 

What next?

You need to use the bibliographies in conjunction with Primo to find which books are available in AU libraries.

The National Library of Wales has a very extensive collection of books . There is a microfiche catalogue of books held in the NLW published before 1970 . The National Library OPAC is accessible from all Primo OPACs and networked PCs and lists material catalogued from 1986 to date.

You can also check on-line the computer catalogues of other libraries. You may be able to find out which libraries may be particularly strong in your subject by consulting directories of libraries and information services which give details of special subject collections. These can be found in the Reference section in both the Hugh Owen and Thomas Parry libraries.