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Back in the days of Dialog, predating the the popularity of Web surfing, online searchers had to construct very precise search statements.  This often meant understanding the scope and coverage of a database’s content and knowing which fields to search–a technique that still applies today, but the general masses often resort to basic keyword searching.

I often teach students to go beyond basic keyword searching, to look for the advanced search page of a Web search engine, and to understand that information on the Web does not magically appear out of the ethernet after entering a few search terms.

With many library catalogs (or any online search tool), you might want to check out the help files.  San Francisco Public Library’s catalog has a link here.  Note that you can use search field tags like “t” for title, “a” for author, “s” for subject, “n” for notes, and so forth.  Handy shortcuts designed to focus your search and reduce the number of results.

This technique also applies to subscription databases like Gale, Ebsco, and ProQuest as well.  In many of Gale’s periodical databases, for instance, entering “AC” followed by a search term in a keyword box will automatically return a list of articles with that term in PDF format.  The “AC” field tells Gale to search only those articles available in PDF format.  Using the “LG” field tag followed by the term [Spanish] will return articles in Spanish.  Pretty nifty, eh?

As of this writing, “LG” hasn’t yet been publicized; I discovered this when I asked a Gale trainer at a recent training workshop, so maybe Gale will incorporate this into their repertoire of searchable fields at some time in the future.

Although the Web is not as nicely organized, there are a few “field tags” you can access.  Stay tuned for my next discussion on how to use them effectively.

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