Finding Reserves and Course Readings

Reserve Items Vs. Course Material

There are several places your course instructors can put readings for classes:

  • In your LearningSystem for the course.  The Library can't access these.
  • In textbooks or coursepacks/reprotexts, which you are expected to purchase.  In some cases, one copy might be on "Reserve" in the Library.  Check TOPCAT.
  • On "Reserve" (hard-copy) in the Library (Bata or Durham).  Search TOPCAT for the call number, then go to the Reserve Desk to request it and sign it out.

The Library can only provide access to those on Reserve. Your syllabus should tell you where readings are kept for your course and provide the dates for reading them.

Reserve Items in the Library

Your course instructor may put physical items on Reserve for you and your classmates to read.  They are on Reserve so that everyone in the class has an opportunity to read them.  They could be in Bata Library or Durham Branch.

Reserve items are kept behind the Library Service Desk. They can be signed out for short time periods - usually 3 hours.

To obtain a Reserve item, get the call number from TOPCAT (the library catalogue), and take this number to the Service Desk. The staff will get the document for you (using the call number you provide), sign it out to you and tell you when it's due. 

Be careful to return Reserve items on time, because fines are applied by fractions of an hour and they can get high quite quickly. The high fine rate is because Reserve items are usually in demand, and your classmates may be waiting for you to return them.

Finding a Reserve Call Number in TOPCAT

In order to obtain a Reserve item, you need the call number. Get this number from TOPCAT, the library catalogue. This explains how to find it.

Searching By Title

The quickest way to find a Reserve reading in TOPCAT is usually with a title browse. If you know the title (your course instructor probably gave you this information), search for the title using a title browse in TOPCAT. It will take you directly to your item, or to a list of items with the same title.

The only tricky part about this could be knowing which title to look up.  If you don't find it by title, try the next method.

Using the Reserves Function

If you don't know the title, or if you want to see a list of everything on Reserve for your course, search the Reserves section of TOPCAT.

  1. Click on "Reserves" from the top TOPCAT menu.
  2. Enter the course code, instructor's last name, or a keyword from the course name.
  3. Click on the corresponding button (Instructor, Course Number, or Course Name) to complete the search.  (If you don't select a button, it will perform a browse by instructor, which gives useless results if you didn't enter an instructor's last name as your search term.)
  4. TOPCAT will provide a list of everything on Reserve for a particular course. If your course has several instructors, or your instructor has several courses, you'll need to choose the correct one. Readings are listed by title, and not by the date they're required for the course.  The Library doesn't have information on when readings are required; find this information in your course syllabus.

NOTE: The Reserve search is a Browse, which means it looks for your term on a list.  You can move forward and backward on the list.

  • It is NOT a keyword search! (Sorry.)

Here's a screen capture:

Screen capture of a Reserve search in TOPCAT

Call Numbers

If the Reserve item you are looking for is a book from our regular library stacks, it will have a regular call number like this:  RC 164.8 .A6.

If it's an instructor's personal copy of a book, it will have a call number that starts with the letter P followed by 6 numbers: P498254.

This is the number you need to take to the Service Desk, so that the staff can find your item for you.

What if You Can't Find It?

If you can't find what you need, ask at the Service Desk for help. We'll check that you are using the correct course number, try various forms of the title, or check the spelling of your instructor for you. Sometimes it's tricky to find a specific title.

Other Locations

  • Not all course readings are placed on Reserve.  Your instructor may choose to post them in your Blackboard (LearningSystem) course or use a Coursepack/Reprotext. Check your syllabus.
  • See our tutorial on Course Readings.

Not Available / Not Processed

  • If you can’t find what you’re looking for, it could be that the Library doesn’t have it, or that it just isn’t processed yet.
  • At the beginning of term, the Library is overwhelmed by material that instructors want to have on Reserve, and it takes time to process each item. There is a delay of several days from the time the material is brought to the library to the time it is accessible. At this busy time, emphasis is placed on items that are needed immediately whenever possible, and readings for later dates may be held for later processing.


  • Current textbooks are NOT normally available in the library. Only if an instructor has provided a copy and requested that it be placed on Reserve will you find it.

Search TOPCAT in more than one way.

  • Sometimes an item is listed under a previous course or instructor because the Library has not been updated on changes to courses.
  • Sometimes an item can have more than one title, particularly if it's a chapter from a book or a journal article (rare).

If you need help searching TOPCAT for your Reserve items, ask for help at the Service Desk.