Out of the Stacks and Into the Catalog: Secrets to Search Fields and Operators

By Kelli Dover, Library Assistant

If your library catalog searches for items in the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) collections give you too few or too many results, or you are not finding exactly what you want, this post will help you utilize Boolean operators and special characters to maximize your search efforts.

To perform any catalog search, you will need to open the TSLAC Library Catalog search home page. (If you’re not sure how to get there, see our previous post in this series.) This article will focus on the search buttons (circled in red below). Future posts will address the radio buttons (keyword, browse, exact) and library options on the drop-down menu. For the purposes of this post, we will select the radio button for “keyword” and choose “*TX State Library & Archives Comm” for the library.  You are now ready to search the catalog in keyword mode.

library catalog search screen

On the search home page, there are three radio buttons to choose from, a library drop-down box and six different buttons indicating search type.

After typing in your search terms, click on one of the blue buttons (Words or Phrase, Author, Title, Subject, Series, and Periodical Title) to run a specific search type. It is important to understand what kinds of results each search will yield.

Words or Phrase: Results include your search terms as found anywhere in the catalog record. If you type in your search terms and press enter, this is the default search type used. Below is an example of a catalog record and all of the fields that may include your search term.

Author: Results include your search terms that are found only within the author fields. This can include corporate authors and additional authors. You can use first name, last name, or initials. Including a last name will provide the best results.

Title: Search mechanism limits the options to only the title fields in the catalog record. Note: Periodical Title is a separate search.

Subject: Results will include your search terms as found in the subject index. If you are not looking for a specific item, this search will pull up a range of titles that may be related to your research area of interest. While it may not include every item in our collection on the subject, it will give you an idea of the types of publications in our collection. Clicking on a subject in the catalog record will bring you to a list of items that have the same subject.

Series: Results will include your search terms as found within the series field. Government documents and academic journals are often entered as series. A series covers publications released in intervals though not necessarily with regularity. It may be best to use a Title search or Words or Phrase search if you’re not finding what you want.

Periodical Title: Results will include your search terms as found within the periodical titles field. Periodicals are released at regular intervals and they generally have multiple contributors. It may be best to use Title search or Words or Phrase search if you’re not finding what you want.

Now that you’ve selected the appropriate search type, we will focus on terminology. Search operators and special commands determine how the words will be used to search the catalog. If you are unfamiliar with these terms, refer to the list below. We have described the basic Boolean operators and some special characters you can utilize in your search.

Basic Boolean Search Operators and Special Commands:

AND finds only records containing all of the search words entered.

         Example: Texas AND Architecture

OR finds records containing one or both of the search words entered. This search operator provides broader results than using AND.

         Example: Cooking OR Baking

NOT finds records containing search words but excludes anything following NOT.

         Example: Architecture NOT Texas.

XOR finds records containing only one of the two words entered, not both.

         Example: Film XOR Music

: finds records containing the exact phrase found inside the quotations.

         Example: “Landscape design”

$ works as a stem/truncation search. The search will find records that begin with the stem of the word and are truncated by the $.

        Example: searching gov$ will find records for government, governor, governing,  govern, etc.

$# : If you want to limit the number of letters following the truncation, add the number sign after the dollar sign.

         Examples: gov$3 finds records for govern. gov$5 finds records for govern and governor.

? : this symbol will work as a wildcard letter in searches.

         Example: searching gr?y, will find records for both grey and gray.

Refining your search technique with search types, operators, and special commands will help get you the results you want. Keep checking our blog for more posts on how to use and navigate the catalog.

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