4: Using the Library Catalogue

Learning Resources

⊂ Research Tutorial 04: Using the Library Catalogue ⊃


If you’ve covered modules Concept Mapping and Structuring Your Research Queries then you are ready to begin using the library catalogue. All you need to do is master the catalogue interface then you’ll be able to apply your skills in concept mapping and combining search terms in structured queries to produce more effective search results.

REMEMBER: The Library catalogue can help you find a variety of materials, audio/visual, books (monographs) periodicals, & music recordings, etc. However, it does not contain the records of individual journal articles or book chapters.

1 Getting Started

Locating the Catalogue

The Library Catalogue is always available from top of any library page. It is also available along with other online library search engines in the Catalogue Directory. This catalogue search interface is a web based "graphical user interface" (GUI). It is just one of many GUI’s that you use everytime you fill in an online form, access your bank account, publish a blog entry, use MS Word or evenyour iPod.

Start with the Advanced Search

Before you begin your search, bypass the simple search interface. In a separate browser window or tab go straight to the Advance Search interface of the Library Catalogue.

  1. In the Simple Search interface at the top of any library webpage click on the link "More catalogue search options";
  2. On the next page click on the link "Advanced Search";
  3. You should arrive and a page that has a search interface that looks something like the graphic to the right:
image of catalogue search filters

Notice that the search interface is divided neatly into 2 halves. The top half contains the main search fields. Below the search fields are additional options that you can use to filter and sift your search to produce better results.

2 The Search Interface

Where it’s Located

The top half of of the pages is where the main search features are located. This is where you’ll spend most of you time when searching the catalogue.

Main Features

image of catalogue search interface
  1. record field selector – this directs the catalogue to look for the keyword(s) in question in a specific section of the records contained in the catalogue.
  2. keyword entry field – where you enter the keywords to create search a search query.
  3. boolean operator selector – this is tool that automates the use boolean operators for you. If you have problems with boolean operators, then use the advance search interface.

3 Search Filters

Search Filters or Limiters are additional catalogue features that allow you to narrow you to narrow your search further than is possible using just a search query. For most on-line catalogues these features will be located below the main search interface.

Understanding how to use these filters or limiters can improve the efficiency of your search queries, improve your results, and save you time.

Features to Note

image of catalogue search filters
  • Library – This allows you to target a search query on any of the libraries within the consortium;
  • language – Restrict the results of your search to materials written in a specific language. For example, if you don’t know German or Italian, then pick English;
  • format – libraries contain a variety of materials other than just books. Restrict your serach results to just Audio/Visual (A/V) materials, or just music, computer files, etc.;
  • location – Most libraries divide their collections up into different sections. Target your search on just one of these sections. For example, if you’re looking for just reference resources, then just scroll down and select "St. Mary’s Reference";
  • publication year – Restrict your search results to specific ranges of years. Let’s say that you only want to look for materials published after 2001. You would then type into this entry field ">2001". Or you could restrict your search to just materials published in 2001. Just enter "2001";
  • sort by – allows you to sort your search results ahead of time by author, title, or newest to oldest.

4 Applying Your Concept Map

Whether you are using the catalogue or a database you need to be able to combine the keywords from the difference concepts that you’ve identified using boolean operators. The advanced search interfaces of most catalogues make this easier — each keyword entry field can be used to correspond to a distinct concept that you’ve identified.

image of catalogue search filters

NOTE: If you need more entry fields for your search, then click on the "Add Row" link.

image of catalogue search filters
  1. Each keyword of group of keywords can be entered into a separate entry field.
  2. Let’s say that you have 4 major concepts (A,B,C, and D) under which you have grouped a number of related keywords.
  3. When you “perform searches” you can then use each separate entry field to group and combine the different keywords from the 4 concepts in a coordinated manner.
  4. And you can use boolean operators in the interface to adjust how these concepts are coordinated in your search.

5 Construct a Search Query

Use the example from the module on Structuring Your Research Queries:

  • In what way is workplace violence / aggression related to a negative work environment factors such as verbal abuse, ridicule, or racial discrimination.
    Concept A
    AND / OR / NOT
    Concept B
    AND / OR / NOT
    Concept C
    negative environment
    detrimental surroundings
    adverse atmosphere
    AND / OR / NOT
    Concept D
    verbal abuse

Try a search something like this:

workplace AND aggression AND environment OR factors

image of catalogue search filters

But when you enter your query use the advanced search interface. Click on the search button and take a look at your initial results. At the top of the page you will see something like:

words or phrase “workplace” AND words or phrase “aggression” AND words or phrase “environment” OR words or phrase “factors” search found 379 titles.

How how many titles did your search turn up?

  • Now try playing with the various filters and changing some of the "record field selectors" on the left column from "words or phrase" to "subject". What changes do you notice in the number of results?
  • Now go back and change some of the "boolean operators" on the right column from AND to OR or NOT. How do your results change?

6 Examine the Results List

Make sure that you pay close attention to the different elements of a results list:

image of catalogue search interface
  • Results Statistics indicate the number of records you found. If it’s a large number, a few hundred or a few thousand, then you might want to refine your further and reduce the total number of results to something manageable, perhaps under 100.
  • Call Numbers indicate where on a shelf an item is located.The call number is like an address for a book or video.
  • The Library Location indicates the area or section of a library in which an item is located. An item may be in "St. Mary’s Main Stacks" or perhaps in " St. Mary’s Reference".Or if you are in a large library, then he item you seek may be located in a different building from the one in which you are conducting your search. If you’re not sure where these places are,please ask at the Library Front Desk.

7 Evaluate Your Results

Once you have an acceptable number of results, make sure to scan it. Click on a few of the results to examine the record. And ask yourself some critical questions about the results:

  • Are all the items relevant to your search?
  • Are better keyword and subject terms available for you to use?
  • How recently were they published?
  • Is the item available or checked out?
  • What are the basic parts of the record that you need to form a citation, should you decide to quote or paraphrase material from the item? (Make sure you record this information)

If you are asking these questions, then you’re ready for the next step in the research process: Call Numbers & Retrieving Library Resources.

For a more detailed template on how to evaluate the quality of your information sources review the module on Evaluating Information Sources.

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