How to Teach Online Catalog Classes Effectively

Qianli Hu
Medical Librarian
The Health Science Center at Brooklyn
State University of New York
1303 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11226

Different librarians have different approaches to teaching bibliographic instruction. In this article, I will summarize my personal experience in teaching the online catalog for community college students, outline my teaching materials (see Appendix 1) and show a handout (see Appendix 2) that I have created.

I have been teaching bibliographic instruction for more than a year in a four-year college and a two-year community college, using CUNY+ Plus Online Catalog, which is the NOTIS system. Although I have not been teaching long, I would like to share my experience with others and learn of others' experiences. This article will concentrate on the following aspects:

Try to Know the Level of Your Students

Only when you know the level of your students' familiarity with the online catalog can you teach them well. I usually teach English 101 or English 102 classes. Students in the English 101 are just admitted into college. Most of them have not used academic libraries' online catalog before, and they are not familiar with the Library of Congress classification. Students in the English 102 may have taken bibliographic instruction before, and used the online catalog already. Although I have one set of teaching materials, I make adaptations and teach these classes according to their levels.

To know students' levels, I usually ask them whether they have used the College Library and the online catalog. For the English 101 class, I teach basic skills. I will start by asking them such questions as: How to logon different databases? What are DPAC, DPER, and DNEW databases? How to use commands and solve problem? I try to find the easiest way to answer their questions. For example, I tell them to use keyword search if they are not familiar with subject search. When I find that students are not familiar with library terms, such as stack, reserves, reference, index, and not-checked-out, I will explain them in class. I also tell them how to read a call number.

For the English 102 classes, I review what they have learned before by asking: What databases should we use if we want to search for books (journal or newspaper articles)? What command should be used if I search for a book entitled The Growth of Economic Thought? If they have the basic skills, I will teach them something new. For example, how to use truncation in their search? How to use keyword search to find books with specific publication years? If they have not grasped the basic skills, I will teach them the basic skills first before teaching them the advanced skills.

Try to Understand and Solve Students' Difficulties

To teach bibliographic instruction effectively, we should find and understand students' problems, and sum up why they have those problems. I observe students' problems and difficulties not only in class, but also after class when I work as a Reference Librarian. If I find several students make the same errors, I will explain them in future classes. For example, many students use keyword search by entering a sentence or the whole assignment statement by their professor. Then I explain to students how to break up a sentence and how to search by concepts. Besides, many students do not know how to handle terminal problems. So I simplify the procedure and tell students in class that whenever there is a problem, just press [RESET] and [TAB] keys, and that everything should be okay. When I find that most students write down call numbers only, and forget to write down location information, I will explain in class that they should write down whether they are reference or circulating books, as they are in different locations.

Practice Is as Important as Teaching

Teaching is important, but practice is also very important. Without practice, students cannot grasp what they have learned in class. In some sense, I feel practice is more important than teaching. I usually use two ways to let students practice:

A. I analyze instructors' or professors' assignments with students in class. If there are no specific assignments from their professors, I analyze other professors' assignments. For example, battered women or homelessness in New York City. I analyze the assignments and correct the errors that students have made. I feel that students like this way of learning and they don't feel bored in class.

B. After teaching and analyzing, I always give them ten to fifteen minutes to practice by themselves on terminals. In this way, students have chance to have hands-on practice, and I can answer each student's specific questions.

Detailed Bibliographic Instruction but Brief Handouts

Bibliographic instruction class lasts usually one hour. There are so many things to teach. I try to concentrate on main elements, such as how to use CUNY+ Plus online catalog system. At the same time, I try to give them necessary bibliographic knowledge, such as how to read a call number.

For the handout, the simpler, the better. Students don't like to spend a lot of time reading. If we can answer all the questions in a one-page handout, we need not to create two pages. The cheat sheet is very useful and it is especially good in today's budget-cutting situation.

Outline of My Teaching Material

Welcome to the library and this class. I am Qianli and work as a Cataloger[1] in this Library. I am happy to have this opportunity to talk with you today about this library, especially how to search CUNY Plus Online Catalog system. If you have any questions during the class, please don't hesitate to interrupt. Before we start our class, let me ask you two questions. Have you ever used this Library? Have you ever used CUNY+ Plus online catalog?

1.What is CUNY Plus?

CUNY Plus is an online catalog. You may use it to find a lot of information in this library as well as in the other 19 CUNY libraries. CUNY stands for the City University of New York. There are four databases in this system.

1.1 The first database is called Dpac.
It contains information about books and media materials in this library and other CUNY libraries as well.

1.2 The second database is called Dper.
It is an index of articles in over 800 journals and magazines. It covers journals published from 1983/84 through early this year.

1.3 The third database is called Dnew.
It is an index of articles published in 27 newspapers. (But this Library has the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Christian Science Monitor only.) This database covers from 1989 through this year.

1.4 The fourth database is call ABII.
It is an index of business articles. It covers approximately 800 journals from 1990 to the present.

2.How to use CUNY Plus system?

2.1 Choosing a database
If you see the blank screen or "CICS-MVS", press [Enter] key, and the main menu will come up. To look for books and media materials, type dpac and press [Enter] key; to look for articles in journals, type dper and press [Enter] key; to look for articles in newspaper, type dnew and press [Enter] key; and to look for business articles, type ABII and press [Enter] key.

2.2 Searching commands and strategies
Searching commands in the four databases are almost the same. Let's talk about DPAC first.

2.2.1 Searching by author's name
If you know author's name, and look for materials written by that author, you type a=last name first name and then press [Enter] key. Omit accent marks and punctuation marks. Upper and low cases are the same. For example, to search books written by Eugene O'Neill, type a=oneill eugene and press [Enter].

2.2.2 Searching by title
If you know a title, type t=the full title. If the title starts with initial articles (a, an, the), omit them. For example, to search for the title The Growth of Economic Thought, you type t=growth of economic thought, and then press [Enter].

2.2.3 Searching by keywords
If you cannot find a book by author's name and title, or if you don't know author's name or title. You may try keyword search. For example, if you look for Shakespeare's The Tempest, type k=shakespeare and tempest. With this method, you can not only find the original play, but also criticism, too.

To search for several terms or different concepts, you should use connectors "and" "or" and "not". This method is called Boolean Logic. In this class, I will concentrate on the first two. The AND connector
Use of the "AND" limits what you search. This search strategy is most useful when you want to find cross references or related information. For example, k=abortion and new york. The OR connector
Use of the "OR" broadens your search. This search strategy is useful when two terms have the same or similar meaning. For example, k=soviet union or russia.

Remember if you use "OR" and "AND" in a search, you should use parentheses. For example, k=(soviet union or russia) and homeless. Without parentheses, computer will search Russia and homeless first, then combines Soviet Union with OR. The result will be different. Truncation
If you look for all words matching or beginning with the word you type, you can use truncation method. The truncation symbol is "?". For example, if you type k=inter? you will retrieve "inter", "interim", "interior", etc. You may specify the maximum number of characters to follow your truncated search term. This is useful when you search for the singular and plural forms of a term, or when you are not sure about some spelling. For example, k=inter?3. In this case, you will get "internet", "interim", "internal", "interact", but not the "international", "internships".

If you don't have questions, let's practice with some previous assignments. What search commands will you use for the following assignments?

You may use keyword search to find books and specific type of materials in this Library. You may add lg, which stands for LaGuardia Community College Library, to find books in this library. You may use VIDEORECORDING to find video tapes; use SOUND RECORDING to find records and CDs; use CD-ROM to find CD-ROMs, e.g. k=homeless and videorecording and lg.

If you are looking for books published in a specific year, you may use keyword search plus .dt.1. For example, k=homeless and 1990.dt.1. This will retrieve information about books published in 1990 only. Don't forget dots (.). It won't work if you forget to type them.

2.2.4 Searching by subject
If you know your subject, you may use subject search. If you are a beginner, I don't recommend that you use it, because your subject terms have to match the terms in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. These big red books are at the Reference Desk. Subject headings are controlled vocabulary. So if you are not familiar with this method, use keyword search when you want to search a subject.

If you are an experienced user, you may search by subject terms. Subject search is more precise and time-saving than keyword search. For example, to search "aging in economic aspects", you type:

s=aging--economic aspects
(Don't forget to type two hyphens)

2.2.5 Searching by the call number
If you know the call number, you may type: c=the call number, and press [Enter] key. For example, c=pn1234 c56 1990

2.3 Showing the results
After you enter your command, the system will search the whole database for information for you. First, the system will provide you with a short list or an index, if the entries are more than one. If entries are more than 14, you need to press [F8] to go to the next page. In the short list, there are line numbers, titles, and authors' names. To get more information for each record, enter a line number, and press the [Enter] key. The citation includes author's name, title, publisher and publication date. Each record also provides you with information about the location, call number and status. You need to write down this information. To go back from full record to the index screen, you type [i], and press [Enter].

2.3.1 Location
Location is in the first column. You will see LaGuardia stack, reference, reserve, media, etc. Circulating books with call numbers from a-nx are on the first floor behind terminals; and books with call numbers from p-z are on the Mezzanine. All reference books (e.g., dictionaries, yearbooks, encyclopedias, and indexes), and some government documents are near the reference desk. All periodicals, magazines, microfilm and microfiche are on the first floor. All reserve materials are at the Circulation Desk. All audiovisual materials are at the media collection near the entrance.

2.3.2 Call number
Each book has a unique call number. It serves as the book's address on the shelf. It is different from public libraries or high school's libraries. Public libraries use Dewey Decimal Classification system. Most college and university libraries use the Library of Congress Classification system. You need to write down call numbers because all books are arranged by call numbers. Let me explain a little bit as how to read the call number. On the screen, you will find the call number like this: PS20.N378 1986. On the book spine, you will see the call number like this:


The first part is arranged alphabetically, the second part is arranged numerically, and the third part is the tricky part. For in this part, the letter is arranged alphabetically but the number is arranged in decimal order. For example, .N4 is greater than .N378. So you will find book with call number .N378 first; .N4 second. Are you clear? If you are, let me give you some call numbers, and please put them into the right order:

PS478.R56; PS478.R9; PN479.R4

In CUNY+, you can use hol(ding) command to know which volume or issue the other CUNY libraries have. You just type hol, and press [Enter].

2.3.3 Status
The third column is status. "not checked out" means it is available for you. If you find "status unknown, check shelf", it may be a reference book or media material. So you have to look at the first column. If it is a circulating material, it means missing as someone has reported to the Library, but the staff has not had time to check yet. If you find "charged. Due:**", it means that it is not available for you, because someone else has borrowed it. You can check out regular books (5 books a time) for three weeks, and renew them for another three weeks. You can use reserved materials in the library for two hours. You can borrow records for one week.

2.3.4 Searching Dper and Dnew Databases
After you logon to Dper or Dnew database, the searching commands are the same as that in Dpac database. In Dper, we have not cataloged all magazine or journal titles online yet. When you get the full record, you have to use the PERIODICAL LIST (Blue cover) to confirm whether this Library has that magazine. All titles in the List are arrange alphabetically. If you find it in that list, then write down the magazine's title, volume, issue, and page numbers. If you cannot find it in that list, but you want to go to other libraries, then you type hol, and press [Enter]. And you will get information from other libraries. For newspaper articles, as I mentioned earlier that we have only four newspapers, you can narrow down your topic with newspaper title, e.g. k=homeless and new york times.

3 Trouble Shooting
If you cannot enter any command, or find *?+ at the bottom of the screen, press [Reset]. If you find the cursor is not at one space behind the command line, press [TAB]. If it still does not work, then turn off and turn on the terminal again. It will work.

4 Locating the CUNY+ and other materials

5 Library hours

6 Conclusion
Let's go over main features of the CUNY+ plus system once again. CUNY+ plus can help you find most materials in this library and other CUNY libraries. The materials include books, journal articles, and newspaper articles. Let me ask you some questions.

If you see blank or cics-mvs on the screen, what would you do? If I look for a CD, which database I should use? A newspaper article? If I look for criticism on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, what command I should use?

As we know, "practice makes perfect." The more you practice, the better results you will get. Please practice after classes. Thank you for participating in this class. Good luck with your searching. There are ten minutes left. Let's go to the terminals to practice. I will be happy to answer your questions there.


(The handout I distribute in classes and at the Reference Desk)


If CICS-MVS is on the screen, or if the screen is blank, press [ENTER] key.


After finding records in the DPAC, type the line number which you are interested in, hit [ENTER] once and several times until you find the call number. Write down the location and call number. In the DPER, when you find information, check the source line, and use the Periodicals (blue cover) to confirm whether that magazine or journal is in this Library. You may also type hol, hit [ENTER], and get holding information from other CUNY libraries.



If you cannot enter any command, press [RESET] key. If the cursor is not at the position of one space after NEXT COMMAND prompt, hit [TAB].

[1] Mr. Qianli Hu worked as a cataloger at LaGuardia Community College Library.

Copyright © 1996 Qianli Hu.
Submitted to CLIEJ on May 2, 1996.