Friday, June 27, 2008

How to find what you're looking for!

I've heard it said that if Google was a library, it would look like the above picture. All the books in the library piled into one big stack, and you get to sort through it. How do you find what you need? The question is valid even when books are Dewey classified, like ours. You may not have a particular title in mind, but are interested in a particular topic. How do you find what you need?

One of the biggest helps is subject headings. Yes, you can do keyword searches and pull a lot of information from a lot of bibliographic records, but subject headings narrow down your search. They are specific, and won't give you information you can't use. Our bibliographic records are loaded with subject headings but there are some specific terms the cataloging department adds which really help hone in on what you're looking for, and these are good ones to know.

Try this the next time you're helping a patron who, for instance, wants a J level fiction book (sometimes called chapter books) having to do with dogs. If you type in "dogs" on our website, you'll get 2,904 hits. A bit like Google, right? Now try refining your search (in MilCirc the term is "limit"). Add another subject heading "junior fiction" in addition to "dogs". Now you'll get a tidy 392 results, all of them junior fiction books on the topic of dogs. Cool, huh?

How about the teen who wants to read some fantasy but only in graphic novel form? Do a subject search on fantasy fiction and then "refine" or "limit" by adding the subject "graphic novels". You've pared down the list from 4,300 fantasy fiction items to 149 that are in graphic novel form.

You can do this using a number of subject terms. Some of the most popular are
  • Easy reader
  • Easy picture book
  • Board book
  • Young adult fiction
  • Graphic novels
  • Foreign films
  • Book club kit
  • Large type books
  • High interest - low vocabulary books

And of course, you can use these subject terms alone and not in conjunction with other subjects. You'll get much broader results but we all know there are people who do want to know the name of every easy picture book we own!