The Catalog

Learn about: What a library catalog is, how catalogs are organized, what a bibliographic record is, how to recognize the parts of a bibliographic record, and access points.

The Catalog

A library catalog is a systematic listing of all the items available in a library or group of libraries. Items included in a catalog are books, periodical titles, videos and films, audio recordings, maps, government documents, etc. Not usually included in the catalog are individual periodical articles.

The purpose of the catalog is to make items in the library more accessible to users and to provide basic information about the items in the library's collection. Each item within the catalog is described in a record by fields, such as author, title, edition, publisher, date, physical appearance, subject, and location of item. This information is organized in a standardized format that is easily identified, known as a bibliographic record.

Bibliographic Record

To search a catalog effectively it is necessary to understand the parts of a bibliographic record. Bibliographic records contain the same basic information regardless of where they appear: card catalogs, online catalogs, web-based catalogs, print indexes, or online databases. The appearance of the information may vary slightly, but the content remains constant.

In each bibliographic record, you will usually find information about the author, title, imprint or publication date, physical description of the item, and subject headings.

Example: Online catalog record


Since bibliographic records consist of the same type of data in standardized fields, we can use some of this information (author, title, subject) to search for specific records that might be listed in a catalog, based on our information needs. Thus, author, title and subject information become ways to access the information we need, or access points.

This page was last modified on April 23, 2015