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Searching the Library Catalog

September 10, 2010

a card for the McElderry Book of Greek MythsYou are all probably old enough to remember finding books in the library using cards kind of like this one. (Thanks to John Blyberg’s library card generator for the image.)

There were three ways you could look up a book in the card catalog: title, author, or subject. The title card for a book of Greek myths would have looked somewhat like this one, although most likely, if you were researching Greek mythology, you would have started by looking in the Gs for Greek or the Ms for mythology (if you’d started in the Gs, and your card catalog was a good one, you’d find a card that said something like “Greek mythology — SEE Mythology, Greek”).

Nowadays, we have all that information and more in the library catalog. Here’s the way the record for that same book looks in the computer. You’ll still see author, title, subject, and a call number, but as you can see, there are a lot of other things there, too.

catalog record for The McElderry Book of Greek Myths, showing title, author, ISBN, etc.

When you do a search directly from our library website, you are doing, by default, a keyword search. That’s the standard way of searching for things online: the computer looks at the string of characters you’ve entered and then looks for identical strings of characters in whatever it’s searching. When you do a keyword search of the library catalog, it look through every word in the records like the one above, and then it spits out the results, as previously noted, in reverse chronological order of when the item was added to the catalog. The end result is that sometimes your results list is a little. . . funny. For instance, try searching for mythology in our catalog. The first hits you’ll get are for the most recent Percy Jackson books. Why? Because the word mythology shows up in the record.

So, as promised, here are some tips and tricks to make your searches a little bit better. You’ll want to start by clicking on the WYLDCAT logo to get directly into the library catalog.

  • Restricted field searching: If you know the exact title or author of a book, try doing a search for title or author instead of for keyword. That will force the catalog to look for whatever words you’ve entered only if they appear in the title or author field.
  • Restricted format searching: If you click on the Advanced Search link, you’ll get a search form with a ton of fields and drop down boxes. One of those drop down boxes is for item type, and you can choose from a somewhat staggering list of options to narrow your search down to just books or DVDs or whatever.
  • Restricted level searching: Also in the Advanced Search area, you can choose to search just Adult, Young Adult, or Juvenile materials. Unfortunately, juvenile will still include both chapter books and picture books, but it will keep adult and YA materials out of your search.

Then there are some other things that people often want to do that you can do but that are a bit harder:

  • Fiction vs. Nonfiction: For reasons buried deep in the history of the Dewey Decimal System, it’s not generally possible to separate fiction and nonfiction in the catalog, but there is a trick that will often work for juvenile books. To get only juvenile nonfiction, type your keyword(s) followed by juvenile literature (e.g. horses juvenile literature would give you just nonfiction books for kids about horses. If you only want fiction, you’d type horses juvenile fiction).

I think that’s enough for now. Remember, if you’re having difficulties, please feel free to come see us in the library. Library catalog searching is not easy!

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