How to Use the Library

Confused about how to get the most out of the library? This guide will walk you step-by-step through the use of the library's print materials, website, catalog, and research databases!

The Catalog

Finding Your Resources

The catalog is the primary means for finding books, articles, and other resources in the library system.

Our catalog not only organizes the books we have on the shelf, but also gathers together information on eBooks, electronic journals, and even some open-access sources available on the internet. On this page, we’ll discuss some of the ways you can use the catalog to find what you need.


Read this page, and then TAKE THE QUIZ to test your knowledge. Remember, you'll have to use the catalog to answer the questions!

The Catalog Search Box

Finding the Catalog

You can get to the catalog search in three different ways:

Catalog search bar, as seen on the website

Searching in the Catalog

Here are a few quick tips to remember when searching the catalog:

  • Remember you can find a variety of resources. The catalog is not just intended for books, but also for journals, articles, DVDs, and others.
  • Choose important keywords. The catalog isn't designed to accept full sentences like an internet search engine. So instead of "Give me an article about quantum physics," you should simply type quantum physics.
  • Brainstorm synonyms. Your initial keywords may not cover every way a topic has been discussed. Try searching for college as well as university, or adolescent as well as teenager.
  • Move from broad to narrow. If you start with a few keywords, it's easier to winnow out extra resources after you've received too many hits than it is to increase your hits when you've found too few. The catalog's left sidebar (described below) allows you to narrow a search by location, format, and several other factors.
  • Use Boolean operators. There are many Boolean operators, but the most important are AND, OR, and NOT. Adding AND between words will require the catalog to find both words somewhere in a resource's description; this will narrow a search. Connecting words with OR will require the system to find resources with either word; this will broaden a search. Placing NOT before a word will exclude that word; this will narrow a search. The catalog is case-sensitive, so if you want to use Boolean operators, you must type them in ALL CAPS.
  • Searching isn't an exact science. There is no perfect search, and no perfect system of classification and retrieval. No search will find you all of and only the resources you want. So think outside the box, and try different things! If one keyword doesn't work, try searching for a synonym. If you can't find any resources at all, consider whether your search might be too narrow. If the resources you find appear to be irrelevant, consider whether they really do discuss your subject—but within a larger context. Also look for subject headings (described below) to help you find resources on your topic.

How to Use the Catalog

To show how the catalog works, let’s use an example scenario. Suppose you wanted a book on the legendary folk hero, John Henry.

  1. We’ll begin by typing John Henry into the search box. As you can see, this returns numerous results. Some are about the folk hero, but others are by or about real people named John Henry. Others are simply results that have either John or Henry somewhere in them. Notice, for example, that one of our results is John Randolph by Henry Adams.

    Screenshot of catalog showing search results for John Henry
  2. One way to remove irrelevant entries is to put the name John Henry in quotation marks, like this: "John Henry". Now the catalog will treat the whole name as a single term rather than as two terms. As you can see, this cuts down the number of results to about a fifth of what we got previously.

    Screenshot of search for John Henry in quotation marks
  3. You might notice that several of our results are not about John Henry the folk hero, but are instead by or about John Henry Newman, a prominent Catholic thinker from the nineteenth century. To further remove extraneous entries, we can add NOT Newman to our search. It’s important to put NOT in ALL CAPS, because this informs the catalog that we intend the term as a Boolean operator.

    Screenshot of catalog showing results for John Henry with Newman removed
  4. Although this might be enough to find us what we want, we probably still have a number of results that are irrelevant. To focus in on only the folk hero John Henry, let us click the title of one of the books about him, such as John Henry, an American Legend.

    Screenshot of record details for book John Henry, an American Legend
  5. Once we have done that, details about this book appear. You will notice a tab labeled Description. Click on this label, and it will reveal several additional details about the book.

    Description details from the record for John Henry, an American Legend
  6. You see that one category under the description is called Subjects. The words in this list are Library of Congress Subject Headings. These are officially recognized, prescribed labels used to help categorize and find books or other resources. All of the subject headings are hyperlinked, so you can click on one and see all entries in the catalog with that heading. We see that one of them is Henry, John (Legendary character). Click on that subject heading.

    Screenshot of results of a subject search for John Henry
  7. The items we get as a result of this subject search will not necessarily be exhaustive, but they should all be relevant. Sources unrelated to John Henry have been eliminated. However, we can refine the search still further. Notice the sidebar on the left, which will allow us to limit the results of our search.

    Sidebar of WorldCat search, showing several limiters
  8. Our catalog system is called WorldCat, and is provided by the organization OCLC. As such, it is attached to libraries all over the world, so we can see not only what is in our collection, but what is in many other collections as well. Let’s suppose, for the purpose of this exercise, that we specifically want a book (as opposed to article or other format) that’s in the NWOSU collection. To get that, we can select the limiters Northwestern Oklahoma State University Library Services and Book.

    Refined search for John Henry in locally collected books

This, as you can see, returns us five results, a small collection of eBooks and print books. Again, these results are not necessarily exhaustive, and we may need to perform broader searches if these results are not satisfactory. But this example shows how precisely limited a search can be.

Interlibrary Loan

Ordering Items from Another Library

Now let’s suppose that we want a book that isn’t in the collection at NWOSU.

As an example, let’s say we want the book Ain’t Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by the historian Scott Reynolds Nelson.

  1. We’ll begin by looking at the book’s record in the catalog. Just as we did above, we can open its details.

    Screenshot showing details of a book not in the local collection
  2. As you can see, when we look at the book’s details, we have the option to Request Item. Selecting this option will open a form to make an interlibrary loan request. Simply fill out the form as completely as possible, and your request will be processed. Typically, loaned books arrive within two weeks. Be sure to use your complete NWOSU email address when filling out the form.

    Example interlibrary loan request form
  3. If for any reason you cannot order a book or other resource through the catalog, you can use the ILL request form available on the Interlibrary Loan Page. This page can be found in the main research guide, Welcome to Library Services. You can also get to the form directly from the library’s homepage by selecting the link marked Interlibrary Loan. Once again, be sure to use your complete NWOSU email address on the form.

    Screenshot of interlibrary loan button on main library page

Ordering Items from Our Library

If you are on a satellite campus or if you are a distance learner, you can order items from the J. W. Martin Library in a fashion similar to the one you would use for items from another library.

  1. Under the item’s description, you will see a button labeled Request NWOSU-owned item.

    Screenshot of catalog item with order button emphasized
  2. If you are not already logged into the system, clicking this button will bring up a log-in screen. You will need to log in with your student ID number and password. If you haven't yet created an account with WorldCat, you will have to create one at this time. Fill out the form completely to receive the item, using your complete NWOSU email address.

    If you are on or near a satellite campus of NWOSU in Enid or Woodward, or if you are in Ponca City, a courier will deliver the item to the campus in one to two business days. It will be available at the front desk. You should pick up your items at a campus if possible, as you will receive them more quickly and save on shipping costs (because you won’t have to send them back through the mail).

    Screenshot of order form

    If you cannot retrieve the items at a campus, you can have them mailed to your address. Simply enter your address in the box labeled Item description(s)/Notes. It will be your responsibility to mail the items back in good condition before the due date.

    Screenshot of notes box on order form