Books are shelved in general subject categories using the Library of Congress classification system. You may want to supplement your use of the catalog with browsing shelf areas for your topic. Below is a brief listing of some of the subject locations for literature - first, general works by genre followed by geographic categories organized in chronological periods.
There is a wealth of information about writers in the reference section - with a focus on national literatures, genres, historical periods, marginalized status, and themes. These are some examples of what's available.
Understanding literature often means understanding contexts and connecting the dots. You might find yourself needing to find out about a particular cultural setting or historical context, or you may need to dip into another field altogether - psychology, art history, music, sociology, philosophy. Sometimes the reference section can get you a running start by defining terms and setting the scene in a way that has more intellectual depth than Wikipedia. Feel free to ask a librarian where to find the treasures of the reference collection.
Unlike public libraries, academic libraries shelve works of literature with criticism. This can make it harder to browse for something to read, but it might help to know that fiction (and poetry) is generally shelved by country (American literature is PS) and then by chunks of time (recent American writers can be found in PS 3600). In addition to the general collection, where most of the books live, you might be interested in the Browsing Collection near the front door, the Young Adult collection on the lower level, our AV collection for film (lower level) or our Zine Collection (main floor in a nook on the outside of the Hasselquist Room).