Keyword Searching in the Library Catalog

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What is keyword searching?

Keywords are the significant words or concepts that express an idea or topic. They are an example of "natural language" access to information, in which you use words in natural order to describe a topic. In contrast, Library of Congress subject headings are examples of a "controlled vocabulary" access to information. A keyword search finds the word or phrase you choose in any field of the catalog record. Keywords are also used for searches in computer-based periodical indexes and Internet search engines.

When do you use keyword searching?

  • when you know part of an author's name
  • when you know some words of a title
  • when you want to search for something by subject and don't know the Library of Congress subject heading
  • when you want to search for more than one concept or word such as alaska and subsistence

Searching by keywords in the Library Catalog.

When you're doing a keyword search in the catalog, search for one or more terms at a time.

Look for:

  • Words or phrase keyword in entire bibliographic record
  • Word or keyword in author field
  • Word or keyword in title field
  • Word or keyword in subject field
  • Word or keyword in series field
  • Word or keyword in periodical title field

Unless you specifically want to restrict your search to the subject, author or title field of a catalog record, you should do a word or phrase search.  It will search every field in every record in the catalog for the word that you type.

To enter a keyword search

Use Advanced Search (default search page) to combine keyword search terms from various record fields; to limit your search by format, language, date, etc.; or to define how records are sorted. Results will be displayed in reverse chronological order (not alphabetically), unless otherwise specified.

To refine your keyword search:

  • Limit a keyword search by word or phrase, author, title, subject, series, or periodical title.
  • Terms may be combined with Boolean connectors (and, or, not, xor), positional operators (same, with, near, adj) or nested.
  • Results will be displayed in reverse chronological order (default), not alphabetically.

Boolean Connectors

  • OR specifies that either word can appear in a record: this will broaden your search.
    Example: "bear or bears"
  • AND specifies that both words must appear somewhere in a record: this will narrow your search.
    Example: "violence and television"
  • NOT specifies that a record contains one word but not another.
    Example: "mining not alaska"
  • XOR specifies that either word, but not both can appear in the record.
    Example: "cats xor dogs"

Complex Searches

The Boolean connectors used in the catalog are AND, OR, NOT, and XOR

Additional positional features are available for more complex searches. These include:

  • SAME - (the default) finds records containing terms within the same field (title, author, etc.).
    Example: "mary same tallmountain" finds: "mary tallmountain" or "tallmountain mary" in the same field
  • WITH - finds records that contain the terms within a sentence of the specified field.
  • NEAR - locates terms that are adjacent to each other, in any order.
    Example: "red near rose " finds: "red rose", "Rose Red".
  • ADJ - locates terms that are adjacent to each other, in the same order as entered.
    Example: "global adj warming" finds: "global warming"
  • NESTING - group terms together using parentheses. Terms within the parentheses will be processed first.
    Example: "alaska and (denali or mckinley )"
  • Precise phrase searching is also available using the BROWSE search, by enclosing the phrase in single quotes. The expression will be searched as it is typed.
    Example: "alaska national wildlife refuge"

Example Search

You're looking for a book with information about bears in Denali Park.

To locate relevant records relating to "bears," consider searching for both the singular and plural forms: "bears", "bear." Your search would look like:

(bears or bear)

To locate information on the park, you might search "Denali" and on the park's former name, "McKinley". Don't search for "park" because it is not a significant word in this context. Your search would look like:

(denali or mckinley)

These can be combined into a single search connected with the Boolean operator and. Your search now appears as:

(bears or bear) and (denali or mckinley)


In the above search, the library selected is "UAF Campus Libraries." This means that only items located on the UAF campus (Rasmuson library, BioSciences library, GI IARC library, and the Museum Herbarium) are shown in the search results.

The words or phrase search for (bears or bear) and (denali or mckinley) located 62 items in the catalog. The items will have the words "bear" or "bears" along with the words "Denali" or "McKinley" somewhere in their records.

Related Readings

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This page was last modified on November 8, 2014