How to search Google and library databases

When searching library databases - or Google, for that matter, it is helpful to have the following arrows in one's quiver: boolean logic, truncation, and proximity operators.

Boolean logic terms (AND, OR, NOT) can be used to include or exclude certain terms from your search

Truncation, allows you to search for a keyword in its variety of forms.

One can truncate internally, as in "wom?n". One can also truncate externally: either right-hand, as in "librar*", or left-hand, as in "*ology". Both multiple- and single-character truncation is possible, as in "librar???" or "wom?n" (ibid).

The final useful search tool are proximity operators, which "designate spatial relationships between words" (ibid).

Let us briefly explore the types of proximity operators that might be available in a particular database.

  • A common example, indicated in many interfaces through the use of enclosing parentheses, is that of phrase. For instance, one might search for "bottled water" and find only documents in which these exact two words occur in this order and directly next to each other.
  • Or, perhaps, you merely want those two words next to each other, but not necessarily in that order.
  • One might also specify the number of words between the terms listed: for instance, only retrieving documents in which bottled and water are within three words of each other.
  • Another useful limitation is to search for only those documents in which terms appear in the same field, such as the: sentence, paragraph, title, subject heading, abstract, etc.
  • Finally, one might be able to rank retrieved documents by how near the search terms are to each other within a document.