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A guide for information searchers
David Nichols1, Michael Twidale1 & Mike Hutchison2
1Computing Department, SECaMS
2Sub-Librarian (Technical Services), Library
Produced by the Lancaster University Innovation in Higher Education (IHE) Project 1995/6
Support for learning information searching skills
Copyright © 1996 the authors. Permission to use, copy and distribute without fee for academic use within the UK is granted provided that this copyright notice, the authors and the origin of the document are retained and remain prominent.
Not for Commercial Use. Information provided in these pages may not be sold.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: resources and strategies 3
2. Resources 4
2.1 The Library 4
2.1.1 Books and Journals 4
2.1.2 CD-ROMs 6
2.2 The Internet 6
2.2.1 Online Databases 7
2.2.2 World Wide Web 8
2.2.3 News Groups (including FAQs) 11
2.2.4 Mailing Lists 11
2.3 People 12
2.2.1 Subject Librarians 12
2.2.2 Lecturers 12
2.2.3 Students 12
3. Search Strategies 13
3.1 Keyword Searching 13
3.1.1 Truncation and Wildcards 14
3.1.2 Combining Searches: AND, OR and NOT 14
3.1.3 Choosing Keywords 17
3.2 Person-based Searching 17
3.3 Institution-based Searching 18
3.4 Publication-based Searching 19
3.5 Citation Searching 19
3.6 Similarity Searching 20
4. Overall Search Strategy 22
5. Example Searches 22
5.1 Example Search 1 - Occupational Stress 22
5.2 Example Search 2 - a search for an unknown article 29
5.3 Example Search 3 - Web Search: our ‘Last Best Hope’ 33
6. Checklist and Hints & Tips 39
6.1 Search Checklist - for when you are stuck 39
6.2 Top Ten Web Tips 40
6.3 Top Ten BIDS Tips 40
7. Glossary and Connection Details 41
Finding things consists of applying a search strategy to a resource. However not all resources permit all types of search strategies (e.g. you cannot usually do a keyword search through the whole of a book).
The resources available to information searchers (that means you!) are constantly changing but can be roughly divided into 3 areas:
• The Library
- books, journals, CD-ROMs, videos, audio tapes, newspapers
• The Internet
- online databases (e.g. BIDS), World Wide Web, News Groups, FAQs, Mailing Lists
- subject librarians, lecturers, other students
The most common strategies are listed below - however they are usually used in combinations rather than individually:
• keyword searching
- I want documents about the Spanish Civil War
• person-based searching
- has John Hughes written any other books?
• institution-based searching
- has the Centre for Policy Studies published anything recently?
• publication-based searching
- what else has been published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning?
• citation searching
- who has referenced this journal article?
• similarity searching - making use of other people's searches
- has someone else done this before? did they save it anywhere I can see?
There are two different types of information available in the resources: full-text and reference.
• full-text: means the complete text of an article or book.
• reference means a pointer to full-text information, examples include an entry on the Library’s online catalogue, an entry at BIDS or a entry in a reference list at the end of an article.
Currently, the main source of full-text information are the books and journals in the Library. Many resources only have the reference information - which means that you once you have found a reference you then have to find a source of the full-text version.
Some resources have an intermediate stage between full-text and reference where an abstract, or short summary, of the article is included.
The resources in the Library are of 3 main types:
• books1 and journals
• people - The people are discussed in Section 2.3.
2.1.1 Books and Journals
Searching for books is usually done via the online catalogue, a computer system – it is sometimes known as the Library OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue), the OPAC or just the catalogue. The OPAC can be accessed from the terminals in the Library, from any networked computer on campus or from anywhere in the world connected to the Internet.
The appearance of the online catalogue changes slightly as improvements are made but will look something like this:
LANCASTER UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 10:46:46 17 SEP 1996
ON-LINE CATALOGUE Port 27 ttype m:felix a:opac
1 Brief Author-Title (full computer file)
2 Author (items catalogued since 1984)
3 Title (or Series) (items catalogued since 1984)
6 Serials by Title
7 Borrower Book List
8 Subject Index
9 Short Loan
A Personal bibliography
K Keyword searching
L Library Information
X Log off (exit the catalogue)
The online catalogue contains an entry for each book in the Library - although multiple copies of the same book have just one entry:
AUTHOR SEARCH BENSON, Douglas
Classmark: KAH [B Floor North] ISBN: 058229584X
The perspective of ethnomethodology / Douglas Benson and John A. Hughes.
London : Longman, 1983. - viii,205p.
Copies 5-6 are U.M.I. reprints.
Brief Author/Title: BENSON, D/PERSPECT OF ETHNOMETHODOLOGY
Vol Copy Issued Due R Recall O/Due1 O/Due2
1 1 S-LOAN.
1 3 BINDING
1 4 S-LOAN.
1 5 Pop Loan 26 JUN 96 07 OCT 96
1 6 Pop Loan 24 JUN 96 07 OCT 96
C: Continue for more details, X: Exit item (or M:, Z:, F:, B: etc.)
There are 6 copies of this book in the Library. Two of the copies (Nos. 1 & 4) have been placed on Short Loan, three of them (Nos. 3, 5 & 6) have been borrowed on Popular Loan. Copy 2 is still in the Library. The three types of loan category are:
Short Loan - a separate collection in the Library where items in heavy demand are placed. They can only be borrowed for a few hours or overnight.
Popular Loan - books in moderate demand that can be borrowed for a week.
Long Loan - all other books.
Loan periods are usually extended during vacations.
Items in the Library are arranged by Classmarks (e.g. KAH) - items with the same Classmark are about the same topics and usually found next to each other on the shelves.
The Library produces individual printed A5 guides for many different topics - consult these for more detailed information.
The CD-ROMs (Compact Disc - Read Only Memory) are separate systems to the online catalogue, each one covering a different subject area. At the time of writing the current list of CD-ROMs in the Library is that shown in Table 1.
A ABI Management/business
B Global Books in Print British/American books in print
C International ERIC British/Australian/Canadian education
D INSPEC Physics/electronics/computing
E SCAD European Communities
F Art Index Visual arts
G PSYCLIT Psychology
H Life Sciences Life sciences
I ASFA Aquatic sciences
J UKOP U.K. official publications
K Bibliographie Nationale French publications
L MLA Literature/language/linguistics
M BNB British National Bibliography
N Weekly Law Reports English law reports
O Dissertation Abstracts Theses 1988 -
S The Guardian newspaper
T The Times newspaper
U The Telegraph newspaper
Table 1 Current CD-ROMs in the Library
CD-ROMs usually cover a range of years but not all the CD-ROM discs are available online at any one time. For some databases the Library may have the earlier years on a separate disc - you may need to ask about this. The CD-ROMs usually do not have the full article, just a reference entry which tells you the important publication information: although some may have a short summary abstract.
2.2 The Internet
The Internet is a network of computers around the world. Some of these computers have searchable databases you can use, e.g. the online catalogues of many university libraries, including Lancaster's, are available over the Internet.
The main resources on the Internet are:
• online databases
• the World Wide Web
• Usenet Newsgroups (including FAQs)
• Mailing Lists
The dividing lines between these resources are blurring all the time but we shall consider them individually.
2.2.1 Online Databases
An online database is a computer connected to the Internet that allows users to perform various types of search activities. The Lancaster University Library catalogue is an online database. A major set of online databases is located at BIDS - Bath Information & Data Services. BIDS is a gateway to several (currently 10) large databases of journal article references - i.e. it does not have the full text of the articles. Sometimes it will have a short summary of the contents of a journal article - known as an abstract.
Figure 4 shows an entry in a database at BIDS. It typically contains information about the , article title (TI), author(s) (AU), journal name (JN), where the author(s) works / affiliation (NA), date of publication and may include a list of other articles the author(s) referenced in their paper (CR). These are known as citations, or cited references.
TI: POWERING THE FUTURE WITH THE INTEGRATED POWER-SYSTEM
AU: DOERRY_N, ROBEY_H, AMY_J, PETRY_C
NA: USN,NEWPORT NEWS,VA,23606
JN: NAVAL ENGINEERS JOURNAL, 1996, Vol.108, No.3, pp.267-279
AB: For the past four years, Advanced Surface Machinery Programs
(SEA 03R2) has been developing the Integrated Power System
(IFS) to reduce ship acquisition and life cycle costs while
still meeting all ship performance requirements. IFS provides
electrical power to ship service loads and electric propulsion
for a wide range of ship applications including surface
combatants, aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, auxiliary
ships, sealift and high value commercial ships. IFS consists of
an architecture and a family of modules from which affordable
and high performance configurations can be developed for the
full range of ship applications. Two years ago, the initial IFS
concepts were presented at ASNE Day 1994. Since then, much has
been learned through the Reduced Scale Advanced Development
(RSAD) and Full Scale Advanced Development (FSAD) programs.
This paper describes the fundamental IFS architecture, details
the evolving ''family of modules'' and their interface
standards, and outlines the ''Mass Customization'' based design
process for achieving customer performance requirements with an
affordable IPS configuration.
CR: 1994, MER JAN
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B001 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B002 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B003 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B005 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B006 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B007 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B009 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B010 CDRL M MAR CORP
M MAR CORP OC RAD, 1994, B011 CDRL M MAR CORP
AYRES_RU, 1993 Vol.81 p.448, AM SCI
DOERRY_NH, 1994 Vol.106 p.77, NAV ENG J
HANE_TH, 1995 Vol.107 p.149, NAV ENG J
PETRY_CR, 1993 Vol.105 p.45, NAV ENG J
PINE_JB, 1993, MASS CUSTOMIZATION N
WOODYARD_D, 1994 p.17, MARINE PROPULSIO APR
WOODYARD_D, 1995 p.29, MARINE PROPULSIO APR
WOODYARD_D, 1994 p.8, MARINE PROPULSIO OCT
BIDS is a service provided to the whole UK Higher Education community. It is free to use but you will need a password - this can be obtained from the Library.
The online catalogues of other University Libraries are also useful in locating books - even if the book is not stocked at Lancaster. This can be especially useful if you will not be living close to Lancaster, but want access to books, for example because you are on vacation or on a placement. You can check the contents of most UK university libraries over the Internet to see if they have what you need and if so, enquire about obtaining reading rights (as at Lancaster Library about the procedure). A new service called COPAC has recently been made available which combines the catalogues of Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, Leeds, Glasgow and Trinity College Dublin. The library catalogues of any of the large American universities are also valuable resources, particularly the University of California system MELVYL and the Harvard University system HOLLIS.
In addition there are numerous specialised online databases available around the world - finding out about them is a search task in itself.
2.2.2 World Wide Web
The World Wide Web (WWW) is a huge collection of 'pages' of information distributed around the world accessible via the Internet. The information has been placed there by individuals, companies, governments, charities, organisations etc. and there is something on virtually every subject. Each 'page' of the Web contains links, or pointers, to other Web pages so the result is a complex network of connections.
Web pages can be generated by an online database so increasingly there is a Web 'front' for the type of databases mentioned in the previous section. As researchers and lecturers in universities frequently have their own Web pages this provides another way to see what articles they have written. Increasingly researchers provide the full text of their articles via the Web.
The success of the Web has been mainly due to the computer software that is used to access Web pages: browsers. The most common Web browsers are:
• Netscape Navigator
• NCSA Mosaic
• Microsoft Internet Explorer
These are point-and-click mouse-driven programs and versions exist for all common types of computer (e.g. PC, Macintosh, Unix X-Windows). A text-only browser, Lynx, is also available.
A Web site has an address which is used to identify it, this is known as a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). The URL has 3 parts,
• the transfer type (or protocol)
• the server address
• directories, sub-directories and filenames
for example the URL of one of the pages at Lancaster University is
• the transfer type is http://
• the server address is www.lancs.ac.uk
• the file is homepage/students.htm
Some URLs point to the top page on a server and don’t need to specify a file, for example the top level page for Lancaster University is:
This address says it is the WWW computer at Lancaster University, part of the academic network in the uk. Similarly, the URL for the opening page for Leeds University is: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/
Other countries have slightly different URL formats:
• The URL for Frankfurt University is: http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/ (de for Deutschland)
• The URL for Yale University in the USA is: http://www.yale.edu/
The Web contains other sorts of organisations as well as universities, here are some more URLs:
• BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (co for company/commercial)
• UK Government: http://www.open.gov.uk/ (government in the UK)
• United Nations: http://www.un.org/ (organisation)
• Disney: http://www.disney.com/ (commercial)
• United States Marine Corps: http://www.usmc.mil/ (military)
Files on the Web can be of several different types - the type is usually shown by the file suffix (filename.suffix), e.g.
• .html or .htm - standard Web document, all Web browsers can deal with these files
• .gif or .jpg - graphics file. All Web browsers (except Lynx) are fine with these.
Files on the Web are just the same as computer files on a local disk. Sometimes you will need to save the file and use another application (such as a word processor). See the online Web help for more information on dealing with different types of documents.
Finding things on the Web
Finding information on the Web can be difficult as there is no overall structuring system - as there is in a Library.
If you have access to the Web, the best thing to do is to try our Help pages. Just go to the Lancaster University home page, http://www.lancs.ac.uk/ and click on HELP on WWW at the bottom of the page.
At the moment there are two main ways of finding things:
• search engines
• hierarchical indices.
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