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Libraries and You

An introduction to basic resources and strategies

Searching in Catalogs & Databases

The two primary methods of searching catalogs (for ex., Tripod) and databases (for ex., JSTOR) are

Tips for Searching Part 1

If you search a catalog or database and receive a large number of results, add a limit or additional keyword in order to retrieve a manageable and relevant number of results to review.  At the same time overly narrow search terms can return too few results.  One way of solving both problems is to use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), which allow you to limit or expand searches depending on your needs.

For example, a search for environment  AND wildlife will return items that contain both "wildlife" and "environment":


environment OR ecology returns items that contain either one of the terms or both:

central america NOT costa rica returns items that talk about the region but do not mention the country Costa Rica:

Phrase searching:

An important strategy to use when searching for phrases ("political ecology") or titles:

For example, "Biodiversity under threat"

will search for those words in that order, finding the 2011 film about Bengal tigers in Bangladesh.


Truncation and Wildcards:

Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols.

For example, one could search for politic*  to find poltic, politics, political, politicking, and so on.

Wildcard searches are for differences within words: a search for wom?n will return results for woman, women, and womyn.


Nested Searching:

When pairing two or more keywords with another keyword, it is important to "nest" the former terms within a larger Boolean search.

For example, (park* OR preserve*) AND  (animal* OR wildlife) will return results for the union of the two subject areas.

In Proquest Research Library this search returns results including:  Functional Wildlife Parks: The Views of Kenyan Children who Live with Them

Natural Resources Forum 28, 3 (2004): 205-215.


Tips for Searching Part 2

Subject Headings allow you to find relevant material grouped together including titles that do not use the keywords you may have been searching.


Finding subject headings

       Look at a book record in Tripod, check the subjects assigned to it, and choose whatever ones are relevant for your research.

Example:  A decade of dark humor: how comedy, irony, and satire shaped post-9/11 America

edited by Ted Gournelos.  University Press of Mississippi, 2001.


                           Political culture  United States  History  21st century

                           September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001  Influence

                           Mass media  Political aspects  United States

                           American wit and humor  History and criticis

                           Political satire, American

                           United States  Politics and government  2001-2009  Humor

                           United States  Politics and government  2001-2009

            Subject search   political satire american  =  81 results


Refining subject searches

                        You can combine different concepts into a single subject search for precision.  The results are more focused than a keyword search.

                         But all the words have to be terminology used in library subject cataloging.

                         To ensure this, you can use subject headings you have already found.  Another option is to browse in the subject headings for more choices.                   

                          Combination subject search:

                                  polit* satire (television OR media)  =  17 results

                                        Searches political satire within the context of the media



Web Searching

Searches on the Open Web can often return irrelevant or non-scholarly results.  Nonetheless, Google and other search engines can still be useful—if limited—discovery tools if you know how to refine your searches.  For example, you might try limiting your search by various domains or using another one of the search tips offered here:

Use quotation marks to get more exact results:

Search any one of multiple terms (as opposed to searching all terms, which is the default) and/or combine sets of terms:

Limit your search to words in the title:

Remove unwanted results:

Limit your search by domain or website:

  • Limited to institutions of higher education in the United States:
  • Limited to U.S. governmental websites:
  • Limited to domains in other countries:
  • Limited to non-profit organizations:
  • Limited to a specific website:

Limit results to the Google News tab:

Limit by date:

Additional Tips for Searching

Use the the Google Advanced Search screen to conduct advanced searches including, but not limited to, those on the left.

See Google's Cheat Sheet for further tips on constructing and refining your searches.

See Nancy Blachman's GoogleGuide for even more tips.