Friday, July 26, 2013

Searching the New Online Catalog: How to Pinpoint What You Want

When I was a kid, if I wanted to find a book in the library I would go look it up in the card catalog.  For those of you who aren't old enough to remember such antiques, this was a big set of drawers filled with cards, like the one to the right.  Each card had information about a single book.  You could look up books by author, title, or subject, which meant each book had three different cards.

That was then.  Today, library catalogs are almost all web-based programs called Online Public Access Catalogs, or OPAC's.  They allow patrons to do things they never could have done with a card catalog, like searching the catalog from home, and reserving and renewing books online.  They also allow much more powerful searches...if you know how to use them.  In this post, I'm going to talk about some ways to make your searches more effective, by narrowing your results to the items you're most interested in.

To get to the library catalog, simply go to the library website, at  You can enter your search directly by typing it into the Search Catalog box on the right.  Or you can click on Online Catalogs, and then click Online Catalog.  This will bring you to the New Releases feature, which shows the covers of new books we've just added to our collection.

Now type a word in the search box.  If you type in the word "dogs", for example, you'll find that we have over nearly 4,000 items with "dogs" as a keyword.  Unless you want to click through all of them, you'll need to narrow things down a little.  One way to do this is to specify the kind of material you're looking for.  In the Format section on the menu to the left, you can narrow your search to books, DVDs, books on CD, and so on.

Another way to narrow your search is to specify whether you're looking for fiction or non-fiction, or for children's or adult works.  You can do that by clicking on Collection, and choosing the type of work you want.  For example, the picture below shows that if you choose Non-Fiction Adult, that narrows your search to 418 items.

If you want to narrow it down a little further, you can choose a particular subject, such as Behavior or Training.

Finally, you can narrow your search to items at a particular library branch.  Just click on Change in the box labeled "Searching".  This will open a popup window that lets you choose the branch you want to search.  This can be useful, but you may also want to search all the branches, because we deliver books from one branch to another.  Just request it, and we'll deliver it to your home branch and call you when it arrives.

You can also see which branch (or branches) a particular item is available at by clicking All Copies beneath the item listing on the left.

The Card Catalog will then display all the branches that carry the item, its availability, and where to locate it on the library's shelves.

Things have changed a lot since the days of card catalogs.  Our online catalog lets you search in new, sophisticated ways to find exactly what you need.  It also offers many other powerful search tools, but we'll cover those in future blog posts.  Have fun searching!