OPACapalooza! Module 1: Basic Search


Module 1 Summary

Module 1 is the very basics of what an OPAC is, and how you can do a simple keyword search.  First, let’s take a look at a standard bibliographic record that you find in an OPAC.  Every book, CD, DVD, or other item should be tied to a bibliographic record.  The information in these records is what allows you to search for items.

example record for Harry Potter book

Typical OPAC bibliographic record for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J. K. Rowling.

 Each of the bold words along the left–the ones in the red box–are called fields.  Each field has information tied to it–the title field has the book’s title, the subject fields have the subjects listed, the Contents field lists the chapters of the book, and so on.  Keyword searches search all the fields for the word or words you type into the search box.  When I typed “Harry Potter” into the search box, it brought this up because it found “Harry” and “Potter” in at least one of the fields.  If I had typed in horcruxes, it would have brought up this record because it would have found the word in the Summary field.  Keyword searches are broad and bring back the most results because they search more than one field simultaneously.  You can tell an OPAC to search specific fields; that is the focus of Module 2. 

 Now that you have some background on how an OPAC works, let’s move on to an actual search.

Module 1 Objectives:

1.  Know how to get to the online catalog (OPAC).
2. Know what a field is and how the OPAC uses it to find information.
3.  Know how to do a keyword search.


Module 1 Video Tutorial

Module 1: Screenshot Walkthrough

1.  Start at Ancilla’s homepage: www.ancilla.edu.  Go to either Current Students at the top, or go to Student Resources at the bottom.  Click on the library link to get to the library’s home page.  Then look for “online catalog” or “Find books in the library”.

Online catalog link

2. This is the start page for searching the OPAC. Note that you have not just a search box, but a box on the left gives you several ways to search; we’ll save those for Module 2. Right now, we’ll do an “All fields” search, using black death as our topic.

OPAC start page

3.  Our search for black death in “All Fields” has given us some unwanted results–we’re looking for information about the bubonic plague, not the Civil War and Reconstruction.  And it’s not likely that the Spiritual Cinema Circle has anything to do with the plague, either.  Let’s see why we got these results. 

keyword search black death listings

Results of keyword search for Black Death.

4.  Doing an “All fields” keyword search for black death means that the OPAC searches every record for the words “black” and “death”–not necessarily side by side.  There are two ways to fix this. 

keyword search bad result

Reasons why this keyword search brought up non-plague results.

 5.  The first way is to tell the OPAC to search for the words side by side–adjacent to each other.  Clicking “Yes” by “Words adjacent” tells the computer to keep “black” and “death” together. 

words adjacent black death setup

Use “Words Adjacent” command to create phrases.

6.  By doing this, the OPAC looks for the exact phrase, it takes out all the imprecise results, and we get our information about the plague.  As you can see, we get much better results this way. 

keyword search black death listings

Results of keyword search using “Words Adjacent” command.

7.  The second way to guarantee better results is to tell the database to search just subject headings for your terms.  This narrows the results to only those items that focus on your term and not those that simply mention it in passing.  For black death, this doesn’t change the results, but for other topics, a subject search can greatly impact the outcomes.  For more on subject searches, go to Module 2. 

subject search black death listings

Results for subject search for “black death”.

That’s how a basic keyword search works in the online catalog.  Most people just use keyword searches, and they can be effective, especially if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for–they’re good for browsing a topic.  But if you know what you’re looking for, there are easier, faster ways to search, and these are going to be the focus of Module 2.

 OPACapalooza! home
Introduction to Online Catalogs
Module 1: Basic Search (keywords)
Module 2: Field Search (author, title, subject searching)
Module 3: Advanced Search (Boolean searching, date limiters, material type limiters, etc.)
Module 4: Special Features (login to renew, WorldCat, Google Books, citations)

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