Getting Started Using the Library


This guide identifies basic library tools to help locate items such as books, films and journal articles at Columbia. A glossary of library terms follows. Please contact Anice Mills, Undergraduate Services Librarian, for further help with using the libraries, or try Ask a Librarian.

LibraryWeb: the Columbia University Libraries website

Why use LibraryWeb?

  • It's the gateway to the Libraries' digital collections and services
  • Use the QuickSearch for easy access to searching CLIO, Databases, E-Journals and Articles
  • Get information about services, library hours, and library workshops
  • Locate homepages to individual libraries with subject guides/resource

Columbia University Libraries Online Catalog (CLIO)

What is CLIO?

CLIO is the Columbia Libraries Online Catalog. It includes items from all the libraries at Columbia except Law and Teachers College. Use it directly from the QuickSearch on the Library homepage or from the dropdown list under Catalogs.

Why use CLIO?

  • Find print and electronic books and journals, films, online resources, government documents, sound recordings, newspapers, 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 on campus within 48 hours.
  • Use My Library Account to see what you have checked out, renew items online, 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 journal 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 find articles?

Use one of the more than 1,200 online databases that the Libraries subscribe to. These can be found on the E-Resources page, or by clicking on Databases in the QuickSearch. A library database can be a collection of scholarly articles, of encyclopedias and dictionaries, of e-books, of images, of streamiing audio or video.

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.

Butler Library Service Desks

  • Reference Desk, 301 Butler
    Located in the Butler Reference Room, this is where reference librarians are available to help you find the information you're looking for or guide you through the research process.
  • Digital Humanities Center (DHC), 305 Butler
    This facility is staffed by tech assistants and research librarians. Text and image scanners, and digital film editing is available for creating and working with digital texts, images and film. 
  • 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.
  • Circulation Desk
    Located on the third floor of Butler Library, this is where you check out books, retrieve books from off-site or Borrow Direct, or request a search for a missing book.
  • 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 Periodicals & Microforms Reading Room 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 Flex Card) 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.