Skip to main content

Finding Books: Using the Catalog

Catalog Searching Tips

  • VuFind ignores very common English words and contractions, sometimes called "stop words." Be careful using stop words in searches as you may get unexpected results (e.g. searching for "Into the Wild" will ignore both "into" and "the" and search only for "wild"). For a full list of stop words ignored by VuFind searches, follow this link.
  • Use quotations marks to keep phrases together like "West Side Story" and "social justice". But be careful -- make sure something is really a phrase or you might miss important results.
  • Use truncation (putting * after the root of a word) to find variations of a word. Librar* finds library, libraries, librarian, and librarians
  • Use boolean operators -- these are simple words (AND, OR, NOT) used to combine or exclude keywords in a search,  which results in more focused and productive results. This saves time and effort by eliminating inappropriate hits.
    • AND -- requires both terms to be in each item returned. If one term is contained in the document and the other is not, the item is not included in the resulting list. (Narrows the search)
    • OR -- either term (or both) will be in the returned document. (Broadens the search) 
    • NOT -- the first term is searched, then any records containing the term after the operators are subtracted from the results. (Be careful, as the attempt to narrow the search may be too exclusive and eliminate good records). If you need to search the word "not", that can usually be done by placing double quotes around it.
  • Use parentheses -- Using the ( ) to enclose search strategies will customize your results to more accurately reflect your topic. Search engines look for the statements within the parentheses first, then search for any statements that are not enclosed.
    • Example: A search on (smoking or tobacco) and cancer returns articles containing: smoking and cancer; tobacco and cancer smoking; cancer, and tobacco; but does not return smoking or tobacco when cancer is not mentioned. 

Searching the Catalog

Search by keyword

A keyword search will check the terms entered against almost every word in an item's catalog record. If you are not sure of the exact title, perform a keyword search with the words you know (and the author's last name if you know it). This is often the easiest way to begin searching, and can also benefit from the use of topics/subject headings (described below).


Search by title or author

If you know the name of the book you need, simply perform a title search in the library catalog. Use quotes around phrases for the best results.

Note: When searching for a known title, be sure to use quotation marks. Otherwise, this search would return all items with the words "between", "world", and "me" in the title.

Use an author search to find materials by a specific composer/performer. Names can be entered in any configuration (e.g. first, last OR last, first).


Books about a topic / subject

There are several ways to search for books about a specific topic. You can perform a simple keyword search, or you can try a narrower subject search to search the subject headings catalogers have assigned to an item. Subject headings tell you what an item is about. This is especially helpful, for example, if you want to narrow your results to items about a composer and not items by the composer.

To get books about music and popular culture you could use a search like the one pictured below. Quotation marks keep phrases together, and the "Limit to Format" option limits the results to books. You could also choose the "books" choice in the format column to the right of the results list (see the second image after this paragraph).

If your search is not narrow enough, you can narrow it down using the "Topics" list along the right side of the results screen.

If an item looks promising, you can also use the topics in the item's record and words from the summary/table of contents to refine the search for other materials.


Note: Sometimes topics are complex, like in the example above which defines the book using "Rhetoric > History and criticism > Handbooks, manuals, etc." You can copy this into a new subject search or click on the topic link which will do the same thing for you automatically.

With complex topics, clicking the first part (e.g. "Rhetoric") will search only that part of the topic, but clicking the second part (e.g. "History and criticism") will search for the full topic, including topic, in this case "Rhetoric > History and criticism."