Author, Title, Subject & Keyword Searching

1) Types of Print Resources
2) Subject Headings & Classification Systems
3) Call Numbers
4) Author, Title, Subject & Keyword Searching

The online catalog is a computerized list, i.e., a bibliographic database, of every item within a library's collection and is one of the most important access tools used in research. It's referred to as an "online" catalog because individual computer workstations retrieve requested information from a main computer and display it on your screen. You're able to display basic details about every item owned by a library - primarily books, but also audio-visual materials.

Before online catalogs, libraries used to maintain card catalogs in which thousands of 3 x 5 cards, each describing a separate book, were kept in hundreds of file drawers. Starting in 1980, however, libraries began replacing card catalogs with online catalogs, until today card catalogs have all but disappeared.

It is important to understand that OPAC's (Online Public Access Computers) do not index the contents of periodicals, i.e. they do not give you lists of magazine articles. You use a different access tool - a periodical index, such as EBSCOhost's Academic Search Elite - to search for citations to individual articles.

Although OPACs often have a different look from library to library in terms of menus, record displays, and commands they all have the same basic structure and operate according to the same principles. Every online catalog allows you to search and display results from its database of bibliographic records. The bibliographic record offers you a detailed description of a book or other item owned by the library. Every book in a library's collection has an individual record and all the records together comprise the database of a library's holdings.

Listed below are the fields of a typical bibliographic record found on an OPAC:

TITLE (will often include a subtitle after a colon)
EDITION (1st, 2nd, 3rd, revised, etc.)
PUBLISHER (city where published, name of publishing company, and date of publication)
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION (number of pages, number of illustrations, height of the book)
NOTES (chapter titles or brief summary of the book. Not always available.)
SUBJECTS (the valid LC subject headings assigned to that book)
By paying careful attention to the information contained in the fields of a record, skillful researchers learn a great deal about a book and its relevance to their research even before looking for it on the shelves.

The CSM Library online catalog is called WebPAC, which stands for WebPublic Access Catalog. It lists and describes the holdings of all the libraries in a family of libraries known as the Peninsula Library System (PLS). The PLS system includes the three community colleges of this district (Skyline, College of San Mateo, and Canada), and all the public libraries in San Mateo County, for a total of 35 member libraries. Therefore, when you are using WebPAC, you are searching a database that describes much more than the 44,000 books in CSM Library. In fact, the WebPAC database includes nearly 2 million items held by the libraries of the PLS system. WebPAC is available at any library in the PLS system and from your home computer if you have an Internet connection.

A DOS-based text version of CSM's online catalog known as PLANet (Peninsula Libraries Automated Network) is also available from library computer workstations. The information contained in this version of the catalog is exactly the same as WebPAC; only the interface is different.


AUTHOR SEARCH: Do an author search when you have a specific author in mind. Books are usually written by one individual, but sometimes there are two or more authors (joint authorship). A special kind of author is a corporate author, which refers to an organization, such as a government agency, association, or company that is recognized as the author of a work.


Dickens, Charles (usually last name entered first, separated by a comma from the first name)
Asimov, Isaac
American Cancer Society (a corporate author)
Click here to connect to WebPAC. Wait a few moments for the catalog to load.
The first screen you see welcomes you to WebPAC and asks you to select an option from the menu on the left. Click on Library Catalog.
You are now at the starting point for searching the WebPAC database. In the box labeled "Choose an index to search," click on the down arrow, point to author, and click once.
Move the cursor into the box labeled "Enter a word or phrase," and type sagan, carl.
Press enter or click on search.
The result of your search is an alphabetical listing of authors' last names.
The first name on the list should be SAGAN, CARL, 1934- (the year refers to Sagan's year of birth).
Double-click on Sagan, Carl, 1934- and you will be brought to the first 10 records for Carl Sagan.
One useful feature of WebPAC is that it allows you to limit your search results by certain criteria. For example, let's assume that you're only interested in books by Carl Sagan that are at CSM Library. In order to make this happen, you must click on the "Limit Search" button found at the bottom left of your screen. You will now be brought to the SEARCH SETTINGS - LIMITS screen, as shown below:

Notice that there are 4 boxes on this screen presenting us with many choices for limiting our search. The boxes are labeled:
-- "Fields"
-- "Operators"
-- "Limit Text"
-- "You can also choose one or more of these limits"
In the box labeled "You can choose one or more of these limits," click on the down arrow and scroll down until you reach College of San Mateo Library. Click once on College of San Mateo Library, as shown above. Click on OK.
Another useful feature of WebPAC is that it allows you to sort your search results by certain criteria. For example, let's assume that you'd like to read the most recently published book by Carl Sagan at CSM Library. Your search result list is already limited to CSM books by Carl Sagan, but now you want to sort that list by date so you can easily find his most recent one.
Notice that your results screen contains 4 columns labeled TITLE, AUTHOR, FORMAT, and DATE. Click on the "date" button found at the top right of the far right column.
Your list of CSM books by Sagan should now be arranged in reverse chronological order, i.e. the publication dates of the books get older as you go down the list.
Display the full bibliographic record for the most current book by double-clicking on the title of the book. You will be brought to a screen called "Detailed View."

TITLE SEARCH: Do a title search when you know the exact title of the book, or even just a few words from the title.

A Tale of Two Cities
Saturn and Beyond
A Cancer Sourcebook for Nurses
Do a title search on WebPAC by following these directions:

Begin by clicking on "New Search" in the left yellow margin.
In the box labeled "Choose an index to search," click on the down arrow,
point to title, and click once. [DO NOT choose "Title Key Word(s)".]
Move the cursor into the box labeled "Enter a word or phrase"
and type A Journey into the Deaf World. (upper case letters not required)
Click Display the full record (detailed view) for this book.
Let's assume that you found A Journey into the Deaf World especially fascinating and you'd like to know if the PLS system has any more books like it. Thanks to the subject headings assigned to this book, there's a very simple way of finding out:

Click on the first subject heading for this book: "Deaf - Social Conditions." You will be brought to a screen called the "Browse List" that enables you to browse through WebPAC's list of subject headings, starting with the one you just clicked: "Deaf - Social Conditions." Notice that the other headings all begin with the same main heading ("Deaf") and are followed by various subdivisions that describe different aspects of the subject. You can scroll both up and down this list of subject headings.
Click on the WebPAC BACK button (top of the window, yellow margin) and you'll be brought back to the full record. DO NOT USE THE NETSCAPE BACKBUTTON, OR YOU'LL EXIT THE CATALOG.
Click on "Deaf - United States - Social Conditions."

Display the list of books under this heading by double-clicking on the heading

SUBJECT SEARCH: Do a subject search when you want to know if the library has any books on a subject that interests you.

global warming
child abuse
Do a subject search on WebPAC by following these directions carefully:

Begin by clicking on "New Search" in the left yellow margin.
In the box labeled "Choose an index to search," click on the down arrow, scroll down to "Subject Headings (exact)" and click once.


Move the cursor into the box labeled "Enter a word or phrase" and type Assisted Suicide.
Click on the first subject heading assigned to this book to find other books that have been categorized under that exact subject.

Click on "New Search" and do an exact subject search for:
ENDANGERED SPECIES - CALIFORNIA (NOTE: It's not necessary to type the dash.)
Notice that the first 5 subject headings of your results display all concern endangered species of California. Select these 5 headings by holding down the shift key and clicking on each subject heading one at a time. Then click on "Show details."
You are now being shown a list of all the books attached to those 5 subject headings.

KEYWORD SEARCH: Keyword searching allows you to think of your own "keywords" to describe your topic. The results can be somewhat "messy" since the computer will look for your search term(s) in any field of the record. But it offers you the advantage of not having to know the correct subject heading. (Remember the Japanese internment camps example from Lesson 3 and how unlikely you would have thought of the formal heading "Japanese-Americans - Evacuation & Relocation, 1942-1945"?) Therefore, it is often a good strategy to start with a keyword search rather than a subject search when you are looking for books on a specific subject or topic and don't know the official subject heading.

Given below is a strategy often used by experienced researchers:

1) Start with a keyword search. Think of 1 or 2 keywords that describe your topic. Your keywords should usually be somewhat general.
2) Examine your results list to find one book that seems to match your topic.
3) Display the full record for this book and look closely at the subject headings.
4) Click on the subject heading(s) that best match your topic and you'll be brought to other books on that exact subject.

This strategy helps eliminate false hits. Let's see how it works in practice:

Click on "New Search". DO NOT CHANGE the search index from its default setting: "Any Word(s) - Title, Auth, Subj". This is the setting for a keyword search.
Assume you're doing research on the American Civil War. Type American Civil War in the entry box. Press enter or click on search.
You will be shown the first 10 hits (records) in a list of over 400 hits. However, since you did a keyword search, it is reasonable to assume that not all of these books will be about the American Civil War. In fact, if you look at the full records for the first several books, you'll see that there are false hits. For example, Mississippi to Madrid is about a black American's participation in the Spanish Civil War. The Great American Sports Book is about American sports from the Civil War to the present.
One of the books looks more promising: Voices from the Civil War: A Docu…." Find that book on your results list. To know for certain if this book is about the American Civil War, and not some other Civil War, you must display the full record and examine it closely. Scroll down to see the entire record.

The 3 subject headings assigned to this book are listed below.

United States - History - Civil War, 1861-1865 - Sources - Juvenile Literature.
United States - History - Civil War, 1861-1865 United States - Social Life and Customs - Civil War, 1861-1865

You have now identified the formal LC subject heading for the American Civil War. Clearly, this is a heading you probably would not have thought of on your own, but were able to find by first doing a keyword search. Click on one of the relevant subject headings to display all the books cataloged under that heading.

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