The W&M Library looks small from outside, but the collection of books is massive (part of the library is underground, and we use high-density shelving).
Start with your topic. Example: I'm interesting in public memory of the 19th century one-room schoolhouse.
Key Terms: Schoolhouse or school house, nineteenth century, 19th century
Too many results. I add History in the second search box. That gets me down to ~100 books
Finally I limit to books published in the last ~30 years and get down to recent books on my topic
In the catalog you'll see that not all the books are in Swem. Thats ok!
Use the request option to order them from other libraries, and pick them up at the main library desk.
No joke, WorldCat is an absolute triumph of engineering & planning, and it has enabled incalculable amounts of research.
Including 3 billion items across 500 million records in 483 languages by 100 million authors, it is the most complete record of books known to exist. Before it was set up in 1998, people had to use the 754-volume National Union Catalog.
WorldCat works the exact same way as our catalog:
Search your keywords or subject and it'll generate a list of books.
It'll tell you if WM owns the book, and if not, who Does own it.
In most cases, WM can order it from the other library & you can pick it up right here in Swem - at no charge!