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Online Catalog Tutorials - Basic Searching

This tutorial is intended to give you an introduction to basic searching techniques to use when searching LSU Libraries Online Catalog.

This is a text-only printer-friendly version of the Online Catalog - Basic Searching Tutorial. It does not include picture examples provided in the primary version of this tutorial.

When you arrive at the home page of the LSU Libraries, www.lib.lsu.edu, your access to the online catalog will be through the purple box on the left side of the page.

From this box, patrons may access a number of catalog options quickly and easily, as well as perform basic searches of the catalog.

First, let's look at the options which are available.

Catalog Options:

The first option is the "Advanced Search." Much of the time, you will be able to find what you need using the Basic Search, but sometimes you will need to do some refining or "tweaking" of your searches. That is when you will want to use the Advanced Search. Using the Advanced Search screen is covered in the Advanced Searching Tutorial.

The "Help Searching" option takes you to the Online Catalog Help Pages.

If you have an LSU ID, or a borrowing card for the LSU Libraries, you have access to information about you library account. You can find materials placed on "Reserve" by instructors, find out what books you have checked out, when your books are due, and if you owe any library fines. To access your account information you need your user ID, which is the 17-digit LSU ID number found on the front of your new LSU Tiger Card (you may use your SSN as your alternate ID if you like), and a Personal Identification Number, or "PIN."

The "PIN Information" option takes you to the "My Account" page which explains your account options and PIN information. The "Renew/Review My Materials" option takes you to the "My Account" page, where you can access a list of materials you have checked out and then renew them yourself, online, without having to bring them to the library. Be aware that not necessarily all materials are eligible for renewal, and there is a limit to the number of times materials may be renewed. If materials cannot be renewed online, they must be returned to the library.

The "Reserve Desk" option takes you to a search screen where students may look for items placed on "Reserve" by their instructors. If you are a student, enter the Instructor's name, the Course Number, or the Course Name, to find what (if any) items have been placed on reserve for your classes, as well as the availability of those items.

The "User Restrictions" option brings up a page which gives information about the use of LSU Libraries' electronic resources and U.S. Copyright Law." The Libraries Copyright Policy is available at http://www.lib.lsu.edu/collserv/colldev/policies/Copyright/copyrightweb.htm.

Database - Records - Fields

Before we move on to actually searching the online catalog, it would be helpful to know something about how the online catalog works.
  • The online catalog is a Database. A database is simply information stored in an electronic format, in an organized way, so that it may be easily searched.
  • Databases are made up of Records. For every item the Libraries owns, a record is created. Each record contains information about that item, such as the title, author, publisher, etc.
  • Records are made up of Fields. Each piece of information about the item is in a separate field. There are author fields, title fields, subject fields, publisher fields, etc.

For example, LSU has a database of information about all of its students. One record is all of the information available about any one student. Each piece of information is a field - the student's name is one field, the address is another, the grade in that class you hated last semester is another, and so on.

Another example. The old fashioned card catalog is like a database. It contains information stored in such a way that it may be easily searched to find information. Each card in the card catalog is like a record, and each line on that card (author, title, subject, call number...) is like a field.

The online catalog searches certain fields within each record to find the information you need.

Now, back to that search box. The primary fields of the online catalog which most people are interested in searching are the "author," "title," and "subject" fields. There are a number of other fields included in the record, and much of that information will be useful to you as you evaluate the resource, but when doing a "basic search" you won't worry about them.

Look for a box with a downward pointing arrow. This is called a drop-down menu. You will see menus like this on many Internet sites. If you click on the arrow, the box will expand and "drop down" to give you different options to choose from.

Once the drop-down menu expanded, you will be able to choose which field or fields you would like to search. Notice that the first option is "keywords anywhere." This option actually searches all of the fields in the online catalog records.

From this drop-down menu, you can choose to search in the "author" field, the "title" field, or the "subject" field.

The last option is "periodical title." Periodicals are simply magazines, newspapers, and journals, so choosing this search option returns only items which are magazines, newspapers, or journals. Actually, "periodical title" is a sub-set of the "title" field. If you searched for a title of a periodical in the "title" field, you WOULD be able to find that item, in your results, but this makes it just a little easier.

So, how do you actually do a search??? First, you must decide what information you have, and what you are looking for. Do you have a specific author or title of a book you are looking for?

If you know the author, choose "author" from the drop-down menu and type the author's name (last name first) in the second box. Then click "search."

If you know the title, choose "title" from the drop-down menu and type the title in the second box. Then click "search."

If you know the title of a journal or magazine, choose "periodicals title" from the drop-down menu and type the title in the second box. Then click "search." Remember, use the title of the journal or magazine. The Online catalog cannot look up titles of articles in magazines or journals.

The catalog is not case sensitive, so you don't have to worry about capitalizing words or names.

Next you will need to decide how the catalog will conduct your search. Click the button next to "Keyword," "Browse" or "Exact" to choose your search type.

Keyword searches look for your search term anywhere in the field or fields you choose. For example, if you choose an "author" search, and look for "Brady," your results will include any author with the first, middle, or last name of Brady.

  • One result, "Brady, Taylor" - Brady is the last name.
  • Another result, "Udall, Brady" - Brady is the first name.
  • Another, different, result, "Woods, Kenneth B. (Kenneth Brady)," Brady is the middle name... You get the idea.
In another example, we have provided both a first and last name, but the catalog will still do a keyword search. It will look for the name "Brady" anywhere in the author fields and it will also look for the name "Sandy" anywhere in the author fields - but NOT necessarily the two names together.

The results for this search did find one item. Unfortunately, it was not an item by someone named Sandy Brady, rather it was a book with multiple authors, including Sandy Simon and Robert Brady!

Another thing to keep in mind while keyword searching - the online catalog will ignore those very common words, like "of," "the," "a," and "with." Then, it will do keyword searches for each of the remaining words.

When doing a title search for Gone With the Wind, the catalog ignored "with" and "the," and looked for "gone" and "wind." The catalog found Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, but results also include items about Gone With the Wind (the book and the movie) as well as the book The Wind Done Gone, by Alice Randall.

Keyword searching can be very helpful in finding similar items, and for those times when you aren't quite sure of the title you are looking for.

Browse searches look for items which begin with the words you type. Your results will be an alphabetical list of items which surround the word or phrase you typed.

When searching for the title Gone With the Wind, and choosing "Browse," the catalog searched for all items whose titles began with the words "gone with the wind." The catalog found:

  • etc.

Back to that Author search for "Brady, Sandy." There were no items with an author named Sandy Brady, but when using the "Browse option this search returns an alphabetical list of items into which "Brady, Sandy" would have fit.
  • BRADY SHELLY 1962-
  • etc.
Exact searches look for only the words you type, exactly as you type them.

A title search for Gone With the Wind, choosing the "exact," option only finds Gone With the Wind, the book by Margaret Mitchell

Subject vs. Keywords Anywhere searches:

If you have a specific subject or a general idea of the subject you are looking for, you would want to do a "subject" or a "keywords anywhere" search.

When records for items are created and added to the online catalog, a controlled vocabulary is used to describe what the item is about. The appropriate terms found within that controlled vocabulary are what will be found in the subject fields. Controlled vocabularies use very specific terms, and have very strict rules about how things are described. This helps to ensure that every cataloger (the person writing the records found in the database) or researcher (you or me) is using the same terms.

For example, how many different terms might be used to describe a heart attack? Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, Heart Arrest, Cardiopulmonary Arrest, Cardiac Death, Cardiogenic Shock, Heart Seizure, Myocardial Infarction, ... You get the idea! OK, let's say you are interested in learning how to make your own paper, so would like to find a book about the process. The first thing you might try is looking for paper making using a "subject" search.

If you get few, or even no results when doing a subject search, try it again as a "keywords anywhere" search. As we said earlier in the tutorial, a "keywords anywhere" search looks for your words anywhere in the records. The word you are looking for might show up in a title field, a subject field, or some other field in an item's record.

For this example, if you search for "paper making" as a subject you get very few results. By doing a "words or phrase" search you get more results and once you look at some of those records, find that the correct subject heading is "papermaking" - one word!

Finally, there is another look to the "Basic Search" which you might encounter. Once you have submitted a search from the LSU Libraries home page, you will be at a page generated by the Online Catalog. All pages within the catalog include a link to the "Search/Home" page, which is a "Basic Search" page. Because it is a page within the Online Catalog, rather than the Libraries home page, it will look different, but it will work the same way.

This tutorial is only an introduction to searching the LSU Libraries Online Catalog, but it should be enough to get you started.

There are a number of ways you can "refine" your searches, to make them more specific or effective. To learn about those techniques, work through the "Building Search Statements" tutorial, and the "Advanced Searching" tutorial.

To find out how to get the most out of your results, go to the "Understanding Results" tutorial.

For all of these options, go to the Online Catalog Tutorials home page.

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