Library catalogue

Libraries can be small or large, private or public. But what they all have in common is a library catalogue. This can be written down in a notebook, in the form of cards in a wooden box, or (today almost always) in digital form. But what are they good for and why is it convenient to know how to use them?  

Imagine that you’re looking for a book with essays by Václav Havel written in Czech or English. You can rely on Google to send you on a wild goose chase and still not know if you’ve found everything you need, or you can use a library catalogue. It can also come in handy when you’re looking for something about… (and you don’t know exactly what at the moment). 

Generally speaking, a library catalogue has three basic functions:  

  • Locational - this is how we use catalogues most often. We go to a library and want to find a book in it. Then we either know where we’re going or we use a catalogue, which will tell us where the given book is located or what signature it has (i.e. a description that allows us to access the book within a reasonable time frame).  
  • Research - this is what we spoke about in the introduction. It will help you find everything the library has to offer on a given subject or poorly structured search query 
  • Bibliographic - if you want to cite a given book, DVD or article, you’ll find all the information you need in the catalogue. It’s much more comfortable than finding it yourself.  

Functions of the online library catalogue of the Moravian Library. Source: KISK. 

There are multiple ways of working with a catalogue. In the Czech Republic, there are a number of services that will allow you to find a suitable book (or other document). For starters, we recommend Knihovny.cz. To work with this service, you first enter a general term like “Václav Havel” or “Psychology” into the search field. A moment later, the system will offer you a large amount of results that you can filter through. The left menu is designated for this - this allows you to do things like select a field that you’re interested in, the time period when the book was published, genre, language or publisher. By using these filters, you can gradually limit the selection until it’s small enough for you to reasonably orient yourself.  Next to each result, you can click to see all the places where the book can be found.   

Tip: The National Library in Prague, the Moravian Library in Brno, and the Research Library in Olomouc have almost everything. These three libraries also have the so-called “right of legal deposit” - if you’re publishing a book in the Czech Republic, you’re required to send it to these three institutions.  

Sometimes advanced searches can come in handy, as they’re able to limit your search query to certain “fields” - e.g. author’s name, book title, ISBN or topic. When doing this, you still have the option of filtering results just like in the previous case.  

The other available option is using the library catalogue in the library where you normally go (for example the Jiří Mahen Library). The advantage is that you’ll only get results that are immediately available to you. At the same time, libraries often have better location services in their own catalogues so these searches for books in the library don’t have to be so difficult.  

Tip: Are you writing a year-end paper or preparing a project? In that case it’s definitely good to know what someone has already written about the given topic. Creating a list like this has different names - background research is really just a written collection of relevant results, and a research study also has some kind of analytical element (for example creating a table with who has explored a topic and in what ways, what they found, what research sample they used, etc.). Even if you don’t do such an activity systematically, having a basic overview before you start writing or working is generally very helpful.   

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