Searching Effectively

Use both basic and advanced search techniques to find what you need in our collection — including commentaries, sermons, media and curriculum items, theses and dissertations — and find out how to email, print or save your search results.

The search screens

  • The Keyword Search screen

    • The first search screen you see in our catalog allows a variety of keyword searches.

      A keyword search is an inclusive one that will bring up every record in which a word appears. It’s the best choice when you have incomplete information — a couple of words from a title, for instance — or when you want to cast a wide net and see everything in our collection that might pertain to a certain topic.

      For example, let’s say you’d like to find out what is in our collection about ministry to persons with disabilities.  You can do a very general Keyword search, or you can choose a certain field within the bib records.  Open the drop-down menu beside the words Field to search, and scroll down.  Let’s try a Subject search.  Click on Subject, and then click on Go.


      (Note that our catalog does not recognize plurals; you might get different results searching for disability vs.disabilities.  To get around this problem, try truncation.)

      You receive a set of more than 600 records about theology and disability, and about pastoral care in cases of chronic illness.  The records are listed in order of publication year, with the most recent items first.


      To see more information about any of these items, click on its title, or on the little underlined number on the left side of the screen.  That will open the full bibliographic record.

      The full bib record includes publication data, subject headings and so on.  It also shows you the call number where the item is found in the stacks.


      (Please note : if there is no Holdings line, that means the item is still on order or in processing, and not yet available for use.  If you need access to such an item, please have a word with the Cataloging staff — they may be able to allow you to see the item.)

      Now return to the previous screen.

      There is a quick way to get the call number of an item and to see whether a copy is on the shelf.  Look at the link under Copies Available, on the right side of the screen.  That column shows you that we own one copy of this book, in the Richmond collection.  Click on the Richmond link.


      You can now see the Holdings record for the copy of the book in the Richmond collection, along with the call number.  This book is available for Regular Loan (it’s not in Course Reserves, Reference, etc).  If someone had already borrowed it, you’d see a date under Due Date.  But this one should be there in the stacks, ready to use.


      If someone else has already borrowed the item, you may be able to recall it, or put a hold on it, so that you will be notified when it is returned and you can be the next in line to borrow it.  Contact our Circulation Desk for more information about borrowing procedures and policies.

  • Browse Searching

    • A browse search makes an exact match between the words you enter and an alphabetized list of headings. When you have precise information — perhaps a title from a bibliography or syllabus — it’s the most efficient way to determine very quickly whether that item is in our collection. To use the browse function, look for the heading Browse Indexes in the blue zone near the top of the catalog screen.


      When the search screen opens, enter the title of the item you’re looking for, choose Title, and hit Go.

      You can also choose Journal Title or Series. This is especially handy because periodicals and monograph series often have very general names like Theology or Interpretation, and doing a keyword search on terms like those in our collection can yield a large number of records to read through.

      You can use a Browse search to find the accurate name of an Author, as it appears in bibliographic records.  This can also be the best way to find a person’s name as Subject, especially for a biblical figure or other ancient or medieval name.  When there are several individuals with similar names, the catalog will provide dates to help you distinguish them.

  • Advanced Search

    • The screen you may find yourself using the most is the one called Advanced Search. It offers the greatest range of choices and capabilities, and is most likely to reward a skilled searcher.

      Click on the word Advanced near the top of the initial search screen.


      When the page opens, you begin to see the advantage of using it. You can enter up to three terms, and you have a full list of possible fields in each of the drop-down menus. You can even enter two or three different author’s names, or more than one keyword, because the fields are repeatable.


      Let’s try looking for materials in our collection that discuss the history of women during the Middle Ages who joined convents or religious orders. On the Advanced Search screen, enter each of your search terms in a separate box; because we want to do a wide and inclusive search, we will leave the Field to search defined as Keyword Anywhere. If you wish, you can define the term Middle Ages as a phrase, by clicking on the yes button under Is it a phrase?  Then, click on Go.

      When the search results appear, look at the right side of the screen.


      The search found 6753 records containing the word women, 1981 records containing the term Middle Ages, and 451 records containing the term monasticism.  Then, it put these two sets together and came up with 22 records containing all three words. Chances are good that the combined subset holds the ones we want. To view the records, click on the number beside the word Total.

      When you click on that number, you’ll be able to view your search results.

      If you get a very large number of items, you can narrow your search further by choosing specific fields to search (such as Title Words or Subject), or by choosing specific types of material from the menus under the wordsLimit search to. Click here for help in using the search limiters.

      If you get a very small number of items, try dropping one of the terms to broaden your search.  Remember, adding more terms will narrow your search by targeting only the small subset that includes every word you asked for.

      Also, try substituting synonyms : instead of Middle Ages, try medieval.  Instead of monasticism, try nun,convent, or religious orders.  Each time you do this, different search results will appear.

      You can also use the Advanced Search screen to do efficient Title/Author searches, or to find specific volumes in a monograph Series. To see an example, please view this one-minute video.

  • Limit Your Search

    • Doing a keyword search in our collection can bring up a lot of records, sometimes thousands. It can be very helpful to target your search to certain kinds of materials, or to certain portions of our extensive collection.

      On our initial search screen, please note the set of options labelled Limit search to: just below the Keyword Search or Advanced Search area.


      You can choose to limit your search by language. Perhaps you wish to retrieve only the records for materials in our collection written in French, or Spanish, or Korean. Use the drop-down menu beside the word Language to make this choice.

      You may want to limit your search to a certain special collection within our Library : the Rare books, or Reference, or the Children’s books. Use the drop-down menu beside the word Location to make that choice.

      Perhaps you would like to see only the most recent publications. You can use the Year from and Year to boxes to enter chosen publication dates: say, 2000 through 2015.

      The drop-down menu labelled Material Types can be used to select only particular kinds of items in our collection: videos for example, or DVDs, audio cassettes, and so on.

      Use these limiters in conjunction with the keyword search just above them on the screen. These limiters do not apply to browse searches, only to keyword searches.

  • Is it a phrase?

    • It’s also helpful to notice the option marked Is it a phrase? in the Keyword Search area.


      Many technical terms in theology and religious studies are expressed in a phrase or combination of words, such asliberation theology, christian education or church history. If you click on the little button beside Yes in the Is it a phrase? area, your search will be limited to records in which those words appear together as a phrase, not just as individual words appearing anywhere in the record.


      The Is it a phrase? option is also available on the Advanced Search screen, and there you can combine a phrase with another search term: for example, liberation theology as a keyword, and Africa as another keyword.

  • Truncation

    • You might find it handy to use the catalog’s “truncation” symbol as a search shortcut.  For instance, if you are looking for books about Old testament prophets during the Exilic period, you can try entering your search terms this way :


      The symbol ? will stand in for any letter or combination of letters after exil-, such as exile or exilic.  The symbol ?will also stand in here for several possible letters following prophe-, including prophet, prophets, prophecy,prophesy, prophesying, prophetic and so on.  You won’t need to repeat your search over and over using different forms of the word or idea you are looking for.  Once you get used to this technique, it can be a real time-saver.

      Likewise, it can be useful when searching for sermons using a particular Scripture passage :


      This search will retrieve sermons on Galatians, chapter five, starting at verse 13.  If there are sermons in our collections on Gal. 5:13-14, or Gal. 5:13-16, or Gal. 5:13-24, or whatever, you will find them all at once using this technique, instead of repeating your search with different forms of the same pericope.

  • Display Options

    • If you do a search that retrieves a large number of records, you will see a blue display box listing the first ten of these records in order by publication year, with the most recent ones first. But if this order doesn’t suit you, there are other options.

      For example: do a keyword search, entering the word Mennonite and choosing the Subject field. You retrieve over 100 records, of which you can view ten at a time. They are listed in order by publication year. But notice that some of the columns have underlined headings :


      If you click on the Author heading, your search results will be re-ordered alphabetically by author’s name. Likewise with the Title heading, using the first word in the title. To go back to sorting by date, click on Year.

  • Format Options

    • Above your list of search results, you’ll see a display like this :


      The default setting of our catalog places groups of records in a blue box with columns, which it calls Brief Table view. That display is adequate, but you need not accept it; there are several choices. With the search onMennonite used above, try clicking on one of the other Format options — for example, the Card Catalog view.


      Now, instead of the blue box with columns, you have a list of works in a text format, showing the author, title and call number (the Brief view-table format does not show call numbers). Also, the underlined links are active, so clicking on Yoder, John Howard will bring up a list of all other works in our collection by that author.

      You might also try the Citation format option, which shows publishing data for each work in your results set. To go back to the blue-box format, click on Brief Table view.

  • Preferences

    • If you wish, you can decide on your favorite Sort and Format options, and then have them saved for you. If you are not logged in, these choices will be saved only until the end of your search session. But if you are logged in with your own user ID barcode number, these choices will be saved permanently (until you change them) and will be seen every time you log in (for help with your login, click here). The Preferences link is found near the top of the page.


      You are presented with several choices. You may first choose No. of brief records per page. If your search retrieves a whole lot of records, you can decide how many you wish to view at once, in a short-form display. The default setting is 10.

      You may also choose Max no. of records for Auto Full.  That apparently meaningless expression indicates that you have the option of viewing all of your records in full display, not a short form; each complete bibliographic record will be presented, one after another. It seems some people prefer this. The default is set at 0.

      You can also choose Format, one of those from the options described above. The default is the blue box calledBrief Table View, but you could choose one of the other options instead.

      The last choice involves authority records, and we recommend that you leave that option set on Yes.