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Keyword vs. title vs. author vs. subject searches

Almost everything is included in keyword searches:  titles; names; notes; call numbers; identifiers of various kinds including OCLC numbers, ISBNs, and ISSNs; editions; languages; subjects; dates; time periods; formats; and more.  This would be unwieldy except that some of these are given more weight than others in determining how a matched record is ranked by relevancy.  Matches of search terms in titles are weighted more heavily than in names, and both are given more weight than terms matching the many other terms included in keywords.

This explains why a keyword search for “Shakespeare” returns records of books with the title “Shakespeare” ranked higher that works by Shakespeare.  Perhaps this will strike you as counterintuitive, perhaps not.

Keyword searches are the default type of search because, given what is included, we see useful results for most searches.

Searching by title, subject, or author narrows the terms considered for a match and can be useful when, for example, you want to find works by Shakespeare rather than books about Shakespeare.  Author searches include all names, despite the label, and are not limited to those who have the role of author as opposed to editor or illustrator.

Why can’t I find “Why?”?  Or special characters in searches and don’t include punctuation

Sometimes searches go wrong because the search includes characters that have a special meaning to the search engine.  A classic and frustrating example is a title search that ends with a question mark.  Suppose you are searching for Why?, a title in the Radical periodicals in the United States series.  If you search for “Why?”, this title will not appear in the search results.

It turns out that “?” has a special meaning:  ‘match any letter or numeral’.  Of course, “?” is not a letter or numeral, and so “?” does not match itself.

Escaping a special character by putting a “\” before it, will cause the search engine to treat it not as a special character but as itself.

This would help except that the first thing the search engine does is remove punctuation.  It turns out that you cannot search for “Why?” and find an exact match that includes the question mark.

Don’t include punctuation in your searches.  It will be removed before the matching algorithm is applied.

Phrase searches

Enclose your search terms in double quotes to create a phrase search as in “some several word phrase”.  In a phrase search, word order matters and all words (terms) are required to appear in any match.

It’s possible to introduce phrase slop which loosens the requirements that word order matters, both by allowing matches on a phrase in which the terms appear in a different order or and by permitting additional intervening terms.  Phrase slop counts the number of term movements needed to make a phrase match the search phrase.  By default we set the phrase slop to zero, requiring an exact match of the phrase (disregarding punctuation).  You can add phrase slop by appending a tilde (~) followed by a number to your phrase.  “some several word phrase”~2 would match “some phrase several word” but not “phrase some several word” because in the latter case three term movements would be required to transform that phrase into the phrase used in the search.

Wildcard searches

“?” is a wildcard character.  It is interpreted as any single letter or numeral.  The search string “te?t” would match “text”, “tent” and “test”.

“*” matches zero or more sequential characters.  The search string “*at” would match “bat”, “that”, and “at”.

Advanced search

Use the advanced search page when you want find titles published within a timespan, titles in a series, titles in one of the over 400 languages represented in our collections, or volumes shelved in a specific library and location.  Several other fields are provided to fine tune your search.