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Library Catalogue search guide

This guide will show you how to use SFU Library's Catalogue. The Catalogue is the tool you use to find books, government documents, videos, journals, newspapers, slides and sheet maps in the Library's collection.

You cannot search for journal articles in the Catalogue. To find articles, see the guide How to Find Journal Articles.

Search the Library Catalogue

Basic searching rules

  • Search terms may be keyed in upper or lower case. Searching for simon is the same as searching for SiMoN.
  • Punctuation marks are ignored by the computer.
  • Spaces do matter. For example, searching for ICBC is different than searching for I C B C. Try both forms to avoid missing anything.
  • If searching for a title that begins with a combination of initial articles or an initialism  (e.g. a la recherche du temps perdu, or a to z), try entering the initial article twice (e.g. a a la recherche du temps perdu or a a to z). This is to circumvent the system's automatic processing of initial articles.

Search by title

Title searches are generally the fastest way to find a specific item. You can omit initial articles (A, An, The, or their foreign equivalents). It is not necessary to enter the entire title but the first few words must be accurate. For example, to search for the title Fishing With John, it is enough to enter the first two words: Fishing with. The screen will display the specific title or a list of titles starting with these words. If there is no exact match, a list of titles beginning with the first letters entered will appear.

Title search screen one

Click on the highlighted title to see information about it. For example, click on Fishing with John to see the full entry. Here it is:

Title search screen two

Use keywords to start your search

Keywords are words from the title, author's name, subject headings, and contents note. If you are looking for any book on a particular topic, this is the best way to start.

Truncating keywords:
You can search multiple word endings off the end of part of a word, using a single asterisk unlimited characters.  For example:

environ* [finds: environment, environments, environmentalism, environmentalists, etc.]

Here is a sample search using the keyword search. To find works about the softwood lumber disputes, enter softwood lumber. A list of potentially relevant items appears.

Keyword search results

Once you have done a keyword search and found a relevant book, it is easy to find more books on the same topic. For example, if we choose the book The softwood lumber war : politics, economics, and the long U.S.-Canada trade dispute, we get the following record.

Full record display

Using keywords to find standard subject headings

Once you have found a relevant book (or other item), check the bottom of the record for Subjects, i.e. Subject Headings. A subject heading is a standardized term or phrase assigned to a book or other material to describe the main topics of the book, and you can use them to find other books with the same subject heading(s).

In this case Softwood Industry -- United States looks good. By clicking on it, you will see a list of subject headings, with the one you chose in bold.

There are 7 items on the topic of the U.S softwood industry; click on the subject heading to see the list of those items.

List of subject headings

Note also that when you do your keyword search, you have various search options, such as limiting by date, seeing only books available at the particular branch of the library, only books in English, only recent books, etc. See Limiting a search for more information.

Search by subject using standard subject headings

Because subject headings are standardized terms, to conduct a subject search, you must know the correct subject heading for your topic. Sometimes you can guess what it is -- the standard subject heading for stamp collecting is Stamp Collecting. But for many topics it is impossible to guess the standard subject heading.

When you do not already know the subject heading, the best strategy is to do a keyword search. Choose the best hits from your results, and look to see what subject headings they have. Often you will find that there are several suitable subject headings, each of which will lead you to other similar books.

Search by author name

Search for works by an author by entering the last name first. For example, to find works by George Woodcock, enter : Woodcock, George. The name may be entered with or without the comma. If you are unsure which is the last name, try it both ways.

Search for works from corporations or organizations by entering the name of the organization. For example, for works by B.C. Hydro, enter : B C Hydro.

Search by journal title

You can search by journal title to see if the Library has a particular journal, magazine, or periodical you are interested in.

e.g. BC Bookworld

Remember that you CANNOT find journal articles this way. If you would like to search for journal articles, see the guide How to Find Journal Articles.

Search by number (call number, ISBN, or ISSN)

If you know the call number of your item, or its ISBN or ISSN (International Standard Book or Serial Number), you can search using those. Click the By number search link on the Catalogue search page. (Note that different editions of a book will have different ISBNs.)

Limiting a search

If a search produces too many results, you may limit the results by date of publication, format, library that owns the items, etc. Click Limit search button or Modify search button.

In the example below, we've limited our keyword search to books published since 1990, available at the Belzberg branch downtown, written in English, with the word "forest" or "forestry"  and the phrase "british columbia" somewhere in the record for the book.

Limiting a search

Getting your book or other materials

Where is the book? Is it currently on the shelf?

When you look at the record for a book, you should check three things:

  • The Location tells you whether the book is in Bennett Library (the main library on the SFU Burnaby campus), in the Belzberg library (at SFU's downtown Harbour Centre campus), or at the Surrey library. If you want a book which is at another branch, you can request that it be delivered to you. See below for details. There are many other possible locations, such as Bennett Reference, Periodical Room, Media Resource Centre, etc. If you are not sure where the location is, click the Check Floor Plans link further down the page to see a list of locations or click on the location e.g. Bennett Library to see a list with linked maps of all possible locations.
  • The Status tells you if someone is borrowing the book. If a book is out, it will have a due date like this: DUE 04-05-25. If a book you want is out, you can request it (see below for details).
  • The Call number tells you the book's location on the shelves. If a book is in Bennett Library's regular collection, the first two letters of the call number tell you what floor it is on: A through HT = 4th floor, HV through QA = 5th floor, QB to Z = 6th floor.

Requesting a book or journal article

You can use the Request button function if ...

Situation Result
the book you want is out on loan Requesting a book which is out on loan will force the person who has it to return it. Exactly when they have to return it varies, but it is usually one to three weeks. When the book is returned, it will be held for you at the Check-out Desk for seven days, and you will receive an email telling you that it is waiting. The notification email will be sent to your email address that is on file with the University in either or .
you want a book or journal article which is at another branch of the SFU Library (e.g. you're in Bennett, it's at Surrey) It takes about two days for delivery.

you want a book or media item which is available at the SFU Library branch where you want to pick it up


The item will be brought down from the shelves for convenient pickup at the loans or checkout counter of the branch. It takes 1-2 days.


you are a Distance Education student, a student/faculty in the Faculty of Education, or an open learning student, and you want materials delivered to your home   For more information on home delivery, see the guide Telebook Service at SFU Library.

To place a request, search the Catalogue and display the record for the item (book or journal).

In this case, imagine that you're at the Belzberg branch but the book you want is not available there.

Requesting an item

With the title of the item displayed on screen, click the Request button button, fill in the form as shown below, and click Submit Above Information. If you were requesting a journal article, you would also have to fill in the article title, volume, issue, page numbers, etc.

Your library record information

Your request will be displayed again for confirmation. If the Library owns more than one copy of the title, you must choose which copy you want, as shown. Then click on Request Selected Item.



Selecting the item you wish to receive

Find course reserves

Search for course reserves by course number or instructor's name.

Other Catalogue features

Check your Library record and renew your books

Renew items and review checked out items by logging into your SFU Connect email account or via your Library record.

Saving, e-mailing, or printing search results

You may do a series of searches, and each time come across one or two items you would like to save in a list. If you retrieved one record that you want to save or email, click Save record button. If you are choosing from a list of records, tick the box to the left of each title you want to save or click Save record button. You can do this several times on different screens, and each time it will add the new records to your list.

When you have finished searching, click View saved button. You will see a list of the items you marked. Choose what format you want to see the records in. Brief Display will give you the author, title, and call number. Then choose whether to receive the list by email, save it as a file on your computer, or display it on the screen. If you choose the latter, you can then use the browser's print button to print the list.

Note that after a 40 minute period of inactivity, catalogue searches timeout.  After 40 minutes of inactivity, you will need to redo catalogue searches.

Saving favourite or preferred searches

Go to  Your Library Record / Renew Items.

Enter your family name and barcode (the 14 digit number beginning 2934500... from your student/library card). Your patron/borrower information will display.

Click Search catalog button. After performing a search in the catalogue, click on "Save as a favourite search"

You can store a maximum of 30 favourite searches. You can re-execute a favourite search by selecting it using the "Search" link.

Receiving email alerts from your favourite searches

Go to Your Library Record / Renew Items.

Enter your family name and barcode (the 14 digit number beginning 2934500... from your student/library card). Your patron/borrower information will display.

You can mark favourite searches (see above) as email alerts. You'll receive an email when the SFU Library orders an item that matches your favourite or preferred search.
Emails are sent out on the first of each month

To cancel an email alert, uncheck the "Mark for Email" check box for any saved search you no longer wish to set up for email alerts.

Keeping a record of your reading history

A reading history is a list of items which you have checked out.

Go to  Your Library Record / Renew Items.

Enter your family name and barcode (the 14 digit number beginning 2934500... from your student/library card). Your patron/borrower information will display.

To start a reading history, click Reading history button, then the Opt in button button. Everything you borrow from then on will be listed here.

You can delete all or selected titles from the list. If you no longer want to keep your reading history, first delete all items in your history, then choose Opt out button.

Your privacy:

The Library makes a record of your reading history available to you for your convenience. Your use of this service is voluntary.

Please be advised that your reading history is housed on servers located in Canada and is subject to the laws of Canada. With the appropriate court order, it is possible that law enforcement officials could gain access to your reading history. If this is of concern to you, you should not opt in to the reading history feature.

Library staff will not have access to your reading history.


If you require help with anything in this guide, or with your searches of the Catalogue, please ask us.