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Media, Popular Culture, and Communication Rights Research Guide: Books

Research strategies and resources on media, popular culture, journalism, copyright, digital society, and related topics.

How to Find Books on Theater and Dance

What's Here


Use Orbis to search for materials at Yale on

To find materials that Yale does not own, you can use these same subject headings to search in WorldCat. Request these items through Borrow Direct or Interlibrary Loan.


The Key Thing to Know


When you search Subjects (or do a Keyword search that might involve subject headings) use the spelling THEATER, not THEATRE. But in titles and names, use the actual spelling (e.g., Towards a poor theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville).


Using Subject Headings to Find Books


Subject headings strive to identify topics with consistent terminology. The basic terminology is produced by the Library of Congress. Always look at the subject headings in any catalog, database or index to make sure that you are searching with the most relevant terminology. Once you have the right terms, it's much easier to find the right books.

Some subject headings are unintuitive. For instance, the headings for medieval theater include:

TIME SAVER: You can often save yourself work by looking at existing bibliographies, which often include both books and articles. Criticism never goes out of date (there are lots of Aristoteleans out there), and you can locate the most recent research by using article indexes and Orbis.


Genres and Topics


The best way to find materials on a topic is usually through its Library of Congress Subject Heading. However, since you may not know what the right heading is, you can use a Keyword search to look for genres and topics. A keyword search finds the term anywhere in the Orbis record. When you do a keyword search, look at the record for one of the books that appears relevant and check the subject headings used to describe the topic. Then also search by the correct Library of Congress Subject Heading. Also, use a keyword search if you have multiple concepts or topics to search.


There are several key subject terms:

  • Theater (works as acted on the stage) (notice the spelling)
  • Theaters (facilities used to stage drama) (notice the spelling)
  • Drama (plays as a literary form)
  • Dance

Other subject headings of interest include:

Examples of Subject Searches Examples of Keyword Searches
dramatic criticism
drama--history and criticism
theater--history and criticism
theater--Asia--history and criticism
theater--England--history--17th century
japan and theater
greece and theaters
women and "restoration drama"
"shakespeare william" and (myths or legends or fables)
women and (drama or theater) and criticism

Also, most genres and geographical areas can be searched using subject headings, such as:


People & Companies


Research about a person can be found in Orbis using a subject search (LastName FirstName). If you don't find anything using a subject search it may mean that your spelling or form is not the same as the Library of Congress form. When this happens, look for a message telling you to search under another entry, as in the George Bernard Shaw example below. Notice that Orbis doesn't care about capitalization or the use of commas -- include them if you like, don't if you don't.

churchill caryl

shaw george bernard Click to get See: Shaw, Bernard,1856-1950
San Francisco Mime Troupe
Rosas (Dance company)




Studies and information about specific plays, as well as the plays themselves, can be found in Orbis. Use a Title search to find the text of the play, and an Advanced Keyword search limited to subject to find information about a play.

Title Search
(to find a play)
Advanced Keyword Search in Subject Field
(to find books about a play)
midsummer night's dream midsummer night's dream

Why can't you simply do a subject search on a play title? If you try, you'll discover that the play doesn't seem to be a subject at all! The problem is that the play title is embedded under the author as subject. So in this example, the subject heading for books on Midsummer Night's Dream is Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Midsummer night’s dream. Intuitive, huh? Yeah, I didn't think so. That's why you do an advanced keyword search within the Subject field.


Another way to find plays is to use online and print play indexes & catalogs.  Many plays are in collections and magazines, and the indexes & catalogs can help you locate them -- including aspects like the number of male and female role.  See the Play Catalogs and Collection Indexes page for these resources.


Find Books

What's Here

Because this research guide covers so many subjects, I'm leaving specifics to the individual subject pages.  Here I'll discuss more general issues of searching for books.

Developing Good Orbis Search Strategies

Most students come to Yale knowing only how to do basic keyword searches in Google, or if they're a bit more advanced, in Google Scholar.  Google is great -- but when it gives you 1,742,996 hits, you'll be overloaded, and you may have a tough time finding the best and most relevant material.  Sometimes what you really need doesn't show up for 13 pages!  The Library can help: we have much more sophisticated resources that help you to hone in on the books, articles and other material that you really want. It isn't hard to learn how to use them!

Orbis, the Library's online catalog, shows what books, journals, newspapers and other resources are in our collection.  Although Orbis includes the titles of journals, it doesn't cover the articles within the journals -- see this guide's page on finding scholarly articles for more information.

Many people simply conduct basic Keyword searches in Orbis to find the books they're interested in. This is highly effective -- to a point.  Keyword searches have both strengths and weaknesses:

  • Strength: Keyword searches may find material you might have a hard time identifying otherwise.
  • Weaknesses: Keyword searches can pull up a lot of records that aren't very relevant, and they won't find important sources don't use the keywords you happened to enter.

So the best search strategy is to combine Keyword searches with Subject searches.

Subject headings are a lot like categories in the Yellow Pages: things that can go by various synonyms are gathered together under one term. For instance, if you want to find a lawyer in the Yellow Pages, you need to look under "Attorneys"; to find a doctor, look under "Physicians"; to get a cab, look under "Taxis." Often the subject heading is obvious: to find a pizza place, look under "Pizza"! But sometimes ... not so much.  In Orbis, you'll see a book's subject headings at the bottom of the record.

Subject searches have advantages and drawbacks too:

  • Advantages: Subject headings bring related books together, even if the titles don't use the keywords you use, and sometimes the headings can help you figure out what the book is about without having to look at the book itself.
  • Drawback: Subject headings aren't always intuitive. One of the most notorious examples is the subject heading for the Second World War: it isn't "Second World War," "World War II," "World War 2," or "World War Two" -- it's "World War, 1939-1945." Whuh?!

There are all sorts of reasons why subject headings may be strange.  Some of the reasons are good, others are debatable.  But in any case, unintuitive subject headings are a fact of life.

That's where Keyword searches come into the picture:

  • From Keywords to Subject: You can use a Keyword search to find books that look very relevant for your research, and then click on the subject headings to find more on the topic.
  • Subject as Keyword: Sometimes you may want to work the other way, by using subject headings in your Keyword searches.
  • Go back and forth between Keyword and Subject searches -- it's is a highly effective way to find books on your topic.
  • It works in most article databases too! (But the subject headings in the article databases might be different from the ones in Orbis.)

In this guide, I've provided examples of subject headings for the topics covered on each page, with links into Orbis to you can see what the headings lead to.  The examples are meant to start you thinking -- they aren't at all exhaustive.

There are even more sophisticated ways to use Orbis to locate books and other materials, especially truncation (wildcards), Advanced Keyword searches and a variety of limits (filters). For more information, see Orbis Help.

Librarian for Literature in English, Comparative Literature, and Linguistics

Todd Gilman's picture
Todd Gilman
Sterling Memorial Library

130 Wall Street

PO Box 208240

New Haven, CT 06520-8240

(203)-432-1761 (office phone)