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English 120 Course Guide

Finding Books

The CUNY Catalog is the best place to search for books. There are two types of searches you may want to do.

Criticism of a work

Most authors are subject headings; try a Subject begins with… search and browse for subheadings like “dictionaries”, “encyclopedias”, and so forth.

Also notice other useful subheadings as you browse, such as titles of particular works or “Criticism and Interpretation”.

Because works about an author are kept together in the library, finding the call number of one book and physically browsing the shelves is also a good strategy.

Information on a theme

An All Fields search (that is, a keyword search) is a good place to start. For example, you might search for terror and literature. Scan the results to see if any of them are relevant to what you are looking for.

When you have found a relevant book, check the subject headings to find out what your topic is called in the subject heading system. Some subject headings you may find useful are:

  • Fear
  • Fear in literature
  • Psychic trauma in literature
  • Psychoanalysis in literature
  • Totalitarianism in literature

These are just some examples of topic-oriented subject headings. Please explore on your own.


Finding Articles

Start your search for articles at our databases list. Here you can find all the resources I've listed below, and many more. Note that you can sort by subject.

MLA International Bibliography

The MLA International Bibliography is the most comprehensive database of quality scholarly articles in literature and related fields, and easier to search than many others.

It supports searching fields such as “Author as Subject” and “Literary Theme” in addition to standard fields like author and title. Use “Name of Work” to search for articles about a particular work.

Use the Find It button to access full text, electronically or in print.

Literature Resource Center

Search by author or work. The Literature Resource Center provides an array of general resources that can help you start your research. A good source for:

  • Information on contemporary authors
  • Biographies
  • Overviews of the work, themes and criticism (often with good bibliographies)
  • Multimedia and web resources

WARNING: If you access MLA and LRC through the CUNY Portal, they look the same! Please make sure you look at the top of the screen to determine which database you are using--the content is very different.


JSTOR offers archival access to older issues of journals in all disciplines but is difficult to search because of limited field searching capabilities. It is a very good database to search for multidisciplinary, “thematic” topics.

Other Databases

Think about the articles you would like to find. If, for instance, you are taking a psychological approach and you want specifically psychological (rather than literary) information, consider searching a psychology database such as PsychInfo. You can find databases in a field by using the drop-down menu on the databases page.


Boolean Operators

These are the commands you will use to search in most databases. The most common are:

Finds documents containing both the words you have entered. Use to search for multiple concepts (such as articles about The Turn of the Screw and hallucinations).
Finds documents containing either of the words you have entered. Use to search for related concepts (such as articles about terror or horror or fear).
Finds documents containing your first term, but excludes all that also contain your second. Use sparingly to eliminate irrelevant results. For instance, you could search for articles referencing Lolita but not Tehran.

Other Operators

* (asterisk) is called a wildcard. Use it to search for words with a particular stem. For instance, use “psychol*” to search for documents referencing psychology and the word psychological. PLEASE NOTE: Some databases may use another symbol instead of an asterisk.

Limiting Searches

When you are searching a database, take a minute to look over the interface and see what limiters are available. These often take the form of checkboxes. Common limiters include:

  • Date range searching
  • Limits to a particular type of item (e.g. articles only, or no dissertation abstracts)
  • Specific language searching (e.g. English only)


Full Text

Books or Journals Available at QC

Click on Queens in the record to find the call number. For journal articles, you must search for the JOURNAL TITLE, not the article title. Then, click on Queens to find out which volumes and issues we have. For help reading call numbers, please see this tutorial.

Books in Other CUNY Libraries

Click on “Title Request” and enter the barcode from your QC ID.

Books Not Available in CUNY or Other Materials Not Available at QC

Use interlibrary loan (ILL). It's also available directly in Find It.


Further Resources

Please see the library's online guide to British and American literature. This guide includes more detailed descriptions of all the relevant databases, links to useful resources on the free Web, and more.


MLA Style

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.

  • Stacks (Call # A-L Level 4; Call # P-Z Level 5) - LB2369 .G53 2009
  • Desk Reference Level 3 - LB2369 .G53 2003
  • Online MLA Formatting and Style Guide from the OWL at Purdue


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