Welcome to part 2 of my series on catalogues. In this part, I’m going to talk a bit about different kinds of searches you might want to be able to do.
This is the kind of search many of us are most familiar with today is a keyword search. You know, the kind where you. get presented with a search box, and you type words in, and sometimes the thing you want comes out the other end?
Keyword searches basically search anywhere in the searchable text for a word or phrase (depending on how things are set up). This can be really helpful, or really horrible.
Keyword searches can be great because you don’t have to remember what kind of information the thing you’re searching for is. And you don’t have to figure out how it might be organised in the thing you’re searching. The word matches or it doesn’t.
They’re also fantastic for something we’re doing at work – instead of having hundreds of subject headings that get used for just one thing (a person, a device or software program, a tool), we’re making sure those are in the abstract, and then assigning more general subject headings.
That way, people can both look at groups of things (handy in a rapidly changing setting like technology) and also find specific tools or people if they need to.
The downside to keyword searching is that if the word is only in one place in the record, and there’s a typo or something else that affects how the word is entered, you won’t ever find that record.
That’s also true if someone uses a similar word to the one you’re searching on – but not the exact one. (Remember what I said in part one, about libraries not having cutting-edge computing power?)
For example, in some systems, “cat” and “cats” may be treated as different words, and typos or alternate spellings definitely will be. There’s a word that is all over our work catalog, but it is sometimes spelled with a hyphen and sometimes no hyphen (the two parts of the word together) and our catalogue searches these as different things.
Depending on the system, the catalogue may adapt some things for you, but it probably won’t be as wide-ranging as your favourite search engines.
Somewhere in between
One of the challenges of keyword searching is that you need to have terms that are unique enough to make a search find what you want – and sometimes that’s going to be really challenging.
I was part of a long-term Harry Potter project – it ran for 7 years, and over those years, we averaged 100 emails many days. As you can imagine, a lot of them had very similar terms and names in them, so we had to learn to figure out other ways to search email to find specific details (and since it was such a long project, sometimes those details were a year or two back, and relied on someone’s memory of what term we were using.)
This eventually drove me to create a wiki for the project that ended up with 9000+ pages, but that’s a whole other story…. (And set of posts.)
This is where learning to think about your keyword searches in more complex ways (such as using multiple terms, using boolean searches, or using ways to filter or limit the results) can be a big help.
You may remember hearing about this in library classes back in your education somewhere. Boolean is the term for doing searches that are joined by AND, OR, or NOT.
(You don’t usually actually have to capitalise the terms, and some systems may use symbols instead of words, but people often do when explaining them because it makes it a lot easier to figure out what’s going on. On some systems, you can select them from drop-down menus.)
AND means you want results that match all the items you list with AND. For example, “cats AND dogs” will return only those items that talk about both cats and dogs.
OR means you want anything that mentions either of them (or any of them, if you have more than two terms.) In this case, “cats OR dogs” would return any page that has “cats” on it, any page that has “dogs”, and also any pages that have both terms.
NOT means that it won’t return pages that have the term indicated by the NOT. So, “cats NOT dogs” would give you all the pages about cats, but not any that mention dogs. This one can be tricky because it would also leave out things like “Cats are not like dogs at all!” or “This is the page for people who love cats, no dogs here.”
In many search tools for catalogues, you can do different combinations – for example, you could say you wanted to search all items mentioning cats or dogs (keyword search), and then say you didn’t want a particular format (NOT book, in the format search).
In some search tools, you can also do more complex searches. Usually, you can find out about the options by looking for the search help information, or sometimes an advanced search tool.
Some common options include:
1) Searching on a phrase.
Usually, this is done by putting quotes around the phrase. “Sun and moon”, for example. Normally this will search for the exact words in that order.
2) Limiting results in different ways.
These can include by date (usually you can specify a range, with some common ones being pre-set, like ‘last month’ or ‘last year’.) It can include things like ‘this email has an attachment’. It can include multiple search fields.
A lot of this depends on context and your particular technology.
3) Type of resource
In some tools, you can search by different types of resource ( for example, on Google, you can search on word or phrase, and then also look for images, news stories, videos, etc. each of which have some additional tools
Next up, talking about controlled vocabulary and why it is both handy and complicated.
4) Not finding expected results?
Sometimes you’ll do a search, and you’ll get very different results than you expected – you know there are things about that in the thing you’re searching. If that’s the case, try a simpler search (just the title or just a phrase from the subtitle, for example). Sometimes a symbol will do something you didn’t expect (in our catalogue at work, a colon will tell the computer to do a ‘from X to Y’ search, so you get really weird results when you put a colon between a title and subtitle if you don’t put the whole thing in quotation marks.)
Usually the help information or the library staff can help you sort this out.