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Getting Started Using the Library

This guide identifies basic library tools to help locate items, such as books and articles, at Columbia. A glossary of library terms follows. Please visit the Butler Reference desk in Butler 301 for further help with using the libraries or go to Ask Us.

Library Website

Why use the Library Website?

  • It's the gateway to the Libraries' digital collections and services
  • You can access CLIO, the online catalog
  • To use encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference tools
  • Find full-text articles or read e-books
  • Renew books online or request interlibrary loans
  • Get information about services, library hours, and collections
  • Locate homepages to individual libraries with subject guides/resources

(Columbia Libraries Online Catalog, listed under Catalogs or in the QuickSearch on the Library homepage)

Why use CLIO?

  • Find print and electronic books and journals, newspapers, online resources, government documents, microforms, sound recordings, films and DVDs, archival collections, and even items on order. Each item in the catalog has its own record which indicates where the item can be found, circulation data such as "not checked out" or when an item is due, and bibliographic information.
  • Place recalls and submit requests for items at Offsite, a storage facility in Princeton, NJ. Materials from Offsite will arrive within 48 hours.
  • Use My Library Account to see what you have checked out, renew items, and to check the status of recall requests.

NOTE: CLIO lists journal titles and the issues of those titles that the libraries hold, but it does not list the individual articles within those journals. To find articles, you will need to use online databases. These can be found under E-Resources on the home page or by clicking on Databases in the QuickSearch.

How do I know if Columbia owns a book or journal that I need?

In the Basic Search mode, do a Title search with the name of the book or journal. If you want to do an Author search, choose Author Search Type and use last name, first name format. Refer to CLIO Help or use the Search Tips below the search screen.

NOTE: Look at the Full View of the record to see Subject Headings, Table of Contents, Notes, and Summary.

How do I find articles?

Use one of the nearly 1,000 online databases that the Libraries subscribe to. These can be found on the E-Resources page, or by clicking on Databases in the QuickSearch.

Once in a database, type in terms that describe your topic. Use the features of the specific search engine to limit and modify your search.

Suggested online databases:

  • ProQuest An interdisciplinary database that contains full-text articles from scholarly journals, dissertations, and newspapers.
  • Lexis-Nexis Academic A full-text database that contains newspapers, wire services, company reports, case law, and government publications.
  • Biography Resource Center Full-text biographical information on over one million people throughout world history and from all over the world.

What do I do if I only find a citation in an online database but want the entire article?

Click on E-Link in the record. You can go directly to the full-text article online if Columbia owns the e-journal with that article. If not, click on CLIO within the E-Link window to see the record for the print version of the journal. Or you can request the article from Interlibrary Loan. If you need more help, ask a librarian for assistance or go to Ask Us.

Butler Library Service Areas

Circulation Desk: Located on the third floor of Butler Library, this is where you check out books, retrieve books from Offsite or BorrowDirect, or request a search for a missing book.

Reference Desk: Located in the Butler Reference Room (301 Butler), this is where reference librarians are available to help you find the information you're looking for or guide you through the research process.

Butler Reserves: Located on the second floor of Butler in room 208, this is where faculty place required readings in books and articles on short-term loan. Use the Course Reserve tab on CLIO to find materials or get to your Reserves list from CourseWorks.

Butler Stacks: Located in the center of Butler Library, the stacks house 1.5 million volumes in the areas of history and the humanities. The stacks are 12 levels of compressed floors with book shelves arranged in call number order. They are entered from the third floor of Butler behind the circulation desk.

Periodicals & Microforms Reading Room (PMRR): Located in Butler 401, the PMRR contains current periodicals, shelved alphabetically, and microforms of older materials. Look in CLIO to determine if the article you need is online, in current periodicals, on microform, or if bound and placed in the Butler stacks.

NOTE about copying articles: In order to make photocopies, obtain a copy card or use the Flex account on your Columbia University ID. If you do not have a Columbia University ID card, purchase a copy card (called a FLEXCARD) at one of the card dispensing units located in many of the libraries. In Butler Library, you may purchase a copy card in room 2L1.

Some Useful Library Terms

(Glossary courtesy of Cornell's Glossary of Library Terms,

Call Number: A call number is a combination of numbers, or letters and numbers that is given to each item held in the library. The letters and numbers assigned to the work describe its subject matter and serves as its address on the shelf. Columbia Libraries uses both the Library of Congress and the Dewey Decimal classification systems.

Citation: A citation provides information on the author, title, publication place, and year of publication. When you look at a bibliography or search an index, you retrieve citations. For journal titles, volume and page number are included in order to make it easier to locate the work.

Catalog/card catalog: A catalog is a compilation of records describing the contents of a particular collection or group of collections. CLIO is the name of Columbia's online catalog. A card catalog is a file arranged alphabetically. It is divided into three sections: Names/titles; Subject; and Serials. No cards have been filed in Butler Library's card catalog since 1981. New material is added only to CLIO.

Serial: The terms periodical, journal, serial and magazine have slightly different definitions, but they are often used interchangeably. These are works that come out on a regular basis (weekly, quarterly, monthly, annually) and contain articles written by various authors.

Index: An index is a guide to the contents of a file, document, or a group of documents. An index is used to point to the contents of something. For example, there are indexes in the back of books that describe and point to the contents of that book. There are also very large indexes or databases that describe the contents of journals and give you enough information to locate an article in a journal. Indexes are usually arranged by subject, author or keyword. Columbia has both print indexes and online databases.

Subject Headings: Words or phrases assigned to books and articles which are used to index these items by topic. Columbia University Library uses Library of Congress subject headings.