Using library catalogs to find children’s books can be a challenge if you aren’t familiar with the way that libraries organize books by subject. Following are a few tips that are specific to searching books in the online catalog at the UIUC Library. These tips are helpful searching any library catalog, though, since the techniques are common to most online catalogs and also can be used in other databases. Of course, if you still aren’t finding what you are looking for, it’s always a good idea to ask staff in the Library for assistance!
Searching for non-fiction books
Many libraries use a standard list of subject headings or descriptors in their online catalogs, one of the most common being the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). This means that once you figure out the terms used to identify books on a particular topic, you can use them repeatedly and in a variety of ways. For children’s non-fiction books, the standard subject heading is “juvenile literature.” For fiction, the subject heading is “juvenile fiction.” Since most people commonly use the term “literature” to describe high quality imaginative writings, this is not an intuitive use of the term for non-fiction, which leads to confusion.
For example, when looking for children’s books on holidays or animals, such as kangaroos, you will need to search the online catalog at
Choose the “Advanced Search” option. Type in “holidays” in the first box, and then select “Subject words” in the drop-down box to the right. Then type in “juvenile literature” in the second row of boxes, also selecting “Subject words” on the right. This should give you a list of over 150 children’s books. These are all non-fiction (typically these will have a call number beginning with S. followed by a number such as 394).
There is no easy way to tell if non-fiction books are appropriate for younger children. One way to get that information is to look at the record for each book and see how many pages it has. Books for younger children generally have 48 pages or fewer.
Searching for fiction books
Finding children’s fiction books is very similar to the strategy above. You simply substitute “juvenile fiction” for “juvenile literature.” For example, using the holidays example above, you would type in “holidays” in the first box, and then select “Subject words” in the drop-down box to the right. Then type in “juvenile fiction” in the second row of boxes, also selecting “Subject words” on the right. This should give you a list of about 15 children’s books. If you want to expand this list, type in “fiction” in the second box instead. Due to a quirk in the subject headings, a separate category for children’s book subjects uses this term. When you type in “fiction” instead of “juvenile fiction” you will get a mixed list of adult and children’s books, however. Also, with a term like holidays, you can find more specific books listed under the individual holiday, such as “Kwanzaa.”
If you are looking for books for younger children, the picture books have a prefix of SE. in the UIUC Library. You can also look at each record to see how many pages the book has. Books with about 32 pages seem to be typical for picture books for younger children.
Finding fiction and non-fiction in a single search
If you want to find fiction and non-fiction books at the same time, follow the strategy above, but simply use the term “juvenile” as your second search term. If you were looking for fiction and non-fiction books about kangaroos, you would choose the “Advanced Search” option. Type in “kangaroos” in the first box, and then select “Subject words” in the drop-down box to the right. Then type in “juvenile” in the second row of boxes, also selecting “Subject words” on the right. This will give you a combined list of fiction and non-fiction books. The non-fiction books typically have a call number beginning with S. followed by a number such as 559.2; the fiction books typically have a call number beginning with S. (fiction for older readers or chapter books) or SE. (picture books or easy readers) followed by the first letter of the author’s last name.
As always, if you have difficulty finding what you need in a library catalog or database, please ask for assistance.