The first step in finding books on your topic is to search the library’s on-line card catalog. You can search by title, author, or keyword (your best bet when you first start searching). In using a keyword for searching, if at first you do not find anything, try different words that have similar meanings. If you were looking for pirates, be sure to search for pirates, piracy, buccaneers, Spanish Main, etc.
Another way is to browse the shelves in your topic area. Stapleton Library uses the Library of Congress (LC) classification system to assign call numbers to most of its materials. LC call numbers start with one or more letters (A-Z). The first letter represents the broad subject assigned to an item; subsequent letters and numbers identify it more precisely. For example, the call number DG254.2 .G78 1984 for the book The Last Generation of the Roman Republic by Erich S. Gruen is created this way:
DG: Italian History
DG254.2: Fall of the Republic and establishment of the empire (DG253.5-DG269)
DG254.2 .G78: Individual work on this topic authored by person whose last name begins with G
DG254.2 .G78 1984: 1984 indicates the year the book was published.
For a complete list of the LC system, visit the Library of Congress.
After searching the holdings at Stapleton Library, visit WorldCat. It contains records for materials in many formats, including books, journals, maps, newspapers, and manuscripts in over 400 languages. If you locate a promising book title, be sure to search through PALCI (Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium, Inc.). PALCI allows you to search the holdings of thirty-five academic libraries in Pennsylvania (Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, Temple, etc.) and request any items you find. Service is very good and turnaround time on a requested item is usually about a week. Make sure you search both groups (PALCI Group 1 and PALCI Group 2) when you search the holdings.
If you are uncertain how “good” a book is that you find, one way to evaluate it is to read a book review on it and see how it was received by others in the field. Academic works tend, though not always, to be published by publishers who specialize in certain academic fields.