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Tip: The catalog will try to confuse you, but with a few tricks, you can get the upper hand.

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If you keep getting no results for your search:

  • Try making it simpler by taking words away. For example: If the search string ARTHRITIS EXERCISE PROGRAMS doesn’t bring up anything, just search for ARTHRITIS and sort through the results to find books that include exercise.
  • Mix things up and enter your search a different way. For example, try putting the author’s last name first–or just skip the author’s first name completely; you usually don’t need it.
  • Use the asterisk key * to search variations on your word. For example, searching BOOK* will bring up the words “book,” “books,” “bookmobiles,” etc. This is called truncation. Use it often, because sometimes you don’t know how the system has listed your topic, and this increases your chances of finding something.
  • Don’t try to spell out long titles! Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis : The Scientifically Proven Program that Allows People with Arthritis to Take Charge of their Disease is too long. Just type some key words: STRONG WOMEN ARTHRITIS. Or if that doesn’t work, type the first few words in order: STRONG WOMEN AND MEN.

If you find too much, or if the results are organized in a confusing way:

  • Click on the browse button and do a search on author, title, or subject from that screen. The results will come up in a list that is similar to entries in the old card catalog. Please resist the temptation to put in too many words; a single word is usually all you need.

General tip:

  • Don’t worry about capitalization; it doesn’t care. And most punctuation doesn’t matter, either.

If you want to understand the weird logic of the catalog, call us at Reference and we’ll tell you what we know. Or just keep experimenting, and the patterns might become clearer. Even if they don’t, you can increase your chances of success by trying the tips above. And trust your hunches; if the catalog says we have nothing by William Shakespeare and you suspect it’s lying, you’re right! Ask a library staffer to try the search; with two against the catalog, we’re more likely to prevail.

Also, the catalog can do some really cool things, but I’ll save those for another post.

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