Some Tips for Searching Library Resources
It's Not Like Google
While Google does a good job of returning relevant results from searches phrased based on the way we speak (e.g., "How many hate crimes occurred in the U.S. last year?"), by default the library catalog and library databases search for all of the words in your query. This often means that searches in library resources using natural language return few results because few resources contain all of the terms in the query.
Selecting Search Terms
Because of this difference between library databases and internet search engines, it's important to isolate the key concepts that you want to have present in your search results and use those as keywords in our search. So if we used the example above, "How many hate crimes occurred in the U.S. last year?," our keywords might include:
Note that quotation marks are used around the phrase hate crimes. As with many search engines, using quotation marks in the library catalog and databases searches for an exact phrase. Without the quotation marks, the search would results containing both the word hate and the word crimes, but would not be limited to that specific phrase.
The library catalog and library databases use Boolean operators to allow us to specify more precisely what we're searching for. These include AND, OR, and NOT. Note that in most databases Boolean operators must be capitalized.
AND is used to connect two words or phrases when you want both included in your search results. e.g., "Hate Crimes" AND 2016
OR is used to connect two words or phrases when you want at least one of the search terms to appear. OR can be helpful when searching for a concept for which may synonymous terms may be used.
e.g., U.S. OR United States
NOT excludes records containing a word or phrase from search results. While NOT can be a helpful tool for excluding irrelevant books and articles from your search results, it can also exclude relevant sources that happen to contain the excluded term. Be careful and think about what exactly you're excluding when using NOT.
Parentheses specify the order of application when multiple Boolean operators are used. Consider this query: "Hate Crimes" AND U.S. OR United States. Most databases default to processing AND first. This means that this search would return all results containing both "Hate Crimes" and U.S. and all results containing United States. Obviously, many of these results would be irrelevant to research on hate crimes in the U.S. Using parentheses and searching for "Hate Crimes" AND (U.S. OR United States) would yield more precise results containing either both "Hate Crimes" and U.S. or both "Hate Crimes" and United States.
Truncation and Wildcards
Truncations and Wildcards are useful alternatives to OR when there are multiple spellings or variations of your search terms.
Truncation is achieved using an asterisk (*) and is used at the end of a stem to search for all variations of a common root. For example, searching for rac* would return results containing race, racism, racist, racial, and racialization.
The question mark (?) serves as a Wildcard and is used within a search term to account for spelling variations, replacing one letter. For example a search for coloni?ation returns results containing both colonization and colonisation.
A library database contains information about the contents of magazines, newspapers, academic journals, and sometimes books, organized in a structured way to facilitate searching. While some databases cover a wide area of interests, most focus on a specific area of study such as Politics, Literature, Agriculture, or Women's Studies.
Know the name of an academic journal and want to see if the library has access to it? Search for it using our Journals List.
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