How to Search Library Databases

Phrase searching | Field searching | Boolean operators | Proximity operators | Wildcards

A default search in all the library databasesis a keyword search against the items we have local access to: all the records the library catalog, articles from journals to which we subscribe, content from participating databases to which we subscribe, and freely available content such as from open access journals or government websites.

A simple search of one or two words will return over a million results: use phrase searching, field searching, and facets to refine your search and return fewer results.In some databases you can use Include results from outside your library's collection option to include records from other libraries' catalogs, articles from journals to which we don't have subscriptions, and records from databases to which we don't subscribe. You can request most of these items via our interlibrary loan.

Phrase searching

All library databases allow for phrase searching with the use of quotes. The query "local food" will find results with that phrase.

Searching specific fields

The single search box in all databases (basic search box or keyword search box in advanced search) will search across many fields automatically. For example, entering an ISBN or ISSN will bring back associated records. You can explicitly search a field using the syntax: "field :( query)." For example, the search ISSN :( 1234-5678), to find records that contain that value in the ISSN field.

Searchable fields:

  • Title
  • Subject Terms
  • Author
  • Publisher
  • Publication Title
  • Volume
  • Issue
  • Language
  • Notes
  • ISBN
  • ISSN
  • DOI

Boolean operators

All library databases offer the following Boolean operations: OR, NOT and AND. The operators must be written in ALL CAPS. By default, all terms in a search are combined with the AND operator. To expand the results set, use the OR operator "microcircuits OR nanocircuits" will return items that contain either term. This can be combined with quoted terms such as "local food" OR "sustainable eating". To exclude items in any of the databases, use the NOT operator or "-" character before a term. When used in the following query "animal NOT dog" the results will not include the term "dog".

Proximity operators

To perform a proximity search, enclose your search terms in quotes and use the tilde (~) followed by a number indicating the distance you want to allow between the search terms. For example: "yeast bread"~10 finds material where "yeast" and "bread" appear within 10 words of each other. NOTE: proximity searching does not take the order of search terms into account. A search on "boron nanotubes potassium"~6 will yield results in which the three search terms appear in various orders.


Searches within some of the library databases can be performed using the wildcards ? and *. The question mark (?) will match any one character and can be used to find "Olsen" or "Olson" by searching for "Ols?n". The asterisk (*) will match zero or more characters within a word or at the end of a word. A search for "Ch*ter" would match "Charter", "Character", and "Chapter". When used at the end of a word, such as "Temp*", it will match all suffixes "Temptation", "Temple" and "Temporary". Wildcards cannot be used as the first character of a search. Use the tilde (~) character at the end of a word to match similar terms. When used on the term "Lead~" it will match "Wead", "Veade", and "Tead".

Scholarly publications limit

When you turn on the Limit to articles from scholarly publications, including peer-review option, you will limit your search results to articles from peer-reviewed journals.


All Library databases use variety of facets to limit and refine search results, each time you turn a facet on or off, your search is repeated and you'll see a new set of results. Most facets will reduce the number of search results (Include results from outside your library's collection will always increase the number of results.) Use the more link beneath a set of facets to see additional choices (these are typically listed in order of the number of results).

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