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Ideas | September 24, 2019

Not finding what you want in the catalogue? Get the results you need with these handy search tips. Contact us for more information.

Skip to tips on searching by:


  • Searches for words in the title, series title, author, subject headings, and notes.

Use Keyword when you:

  • want to find materials on a topic, OR
  • remember only part of the author’s name and/or part of the title.

Keyword searching is very powerful, but not always precise. For example, a keyword search for depression will find items about the Great Depression as well as about the illness. A search for windows will find items about curtains as well as books about computers.

Add these "Operators" to your keyword search for better results:

Phrase search ("") - Typing a phrase enclosed in quotation marks returns only items containing that exact phrase. For example, if you type "air pollution" (in quotes), an item containing the phrase pollution of the air will not be found.

Fill in the Blanks (*) - The *, or wildcard, is a little-known feature that can be very powerful. It broadens your search to include all words that begin with the letters you type.

  • Use a single asterisk * to find from 1-5 characters.
  • Use a double asterisk ** for open-ended truncation.


  • wom*n - returns items containing the words women and woman
  • garden* - returns items containing the words garden, gardener, gardening, gardens, and gardenia
  • huck** finn
  • fyodor dost**

AND - Typing AND (UPPER CASE) between your keywords usually narrows your search, finding only items that include all the words typed. However, your search terms are automatically AND'ed by default.

  • Example: home AND repair - returns only items that include both of these words. 

OR - Typing OR (UPPER CASE) between your keywords expands your search, finding items that include one or more of the words typed. For example, home OR repair returns items that include one or both of these words, including books on home buying and auto repair.

Use OR when you are not sure which words have been used in the catalogue. Examples:

  • aged OR elderly OR senior
  • teens OR kids OR adolescents OR youths

NOT - Typing NOT (UPPER CASE) between your keywords narrows your search, finding items that include the first word but not the second word.

  • Example: pets NOT cats - returns items about pets but not about cats.

Fields - Specify fields to search using these abbreviations:

  • a: (author)
  • t: (title)
  • s: (subject)
  • n: (note)


  • t:mexico NOT t:new
  • a: twain AND t:huck**
  • s:portuguese AND s:cook*
  • n:steven spielberg



  • Searches for the title of a work.

You need to know at least the first word of the title, and must type the words of the title in the correct order. Leave out the initial article (the, an, a, le, la, les, l’) when searching for titles.

You can also look for series and alternate titles with this seach. Simply type the series or alternate name as in the following examples:

  • nancy drew mystery stories
  • magic school bus
  • hobbit
  • there and back again

Not sure of the title? Try a Keyword search instead.



  • Searches for the creator of a work.

Creators can be authors, illustrators, composers, performers, conductors, actors, audiobook readers, organizations and government departments. You can type as little or as much of the name as you want. You must start with all or part of the last name.

  • Enter most names as last name, first name:
  • einstein albert
  • munsch robert
  • shakespeare william
  • picasso pablo
  • For people with a title, type the most commonly known name first
  • Musical groups, museums, societies and other organizations are typed in direct order:
  • tragically hip
  • canadian medical association
  • cambridge galleries
  • statistics canada

Looking for works about a person or group? Use a Subject search instead.



  • Searches for topics, or for the names of people or groups

Idea Exchange use special terms and phrases established by the Library of Congress as subjects. These terms are used by libraries all over the world. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to guess the right term or phrase. Examples of subject headings are:

  • Egypt
  • Cookery–French
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Pregnancy–Video recordings
  • Einstein, Albert, 1875-1955

You can type as little or as much of the subject heading as you want, but you must start with the correct first word. Leave out capitalization and punctuation.

Not sure which subject heading to use? Try a Keyword search instead. Then, once you have a list of titles, click on the title that appears to be the best match to your topic. The Library of Congress Subject Headings are listed beside “Subject” near the bottom of the screen. Click on the subject that interests you for a list of more items on that topic.


Call Number

  • Searches for the shelf location of a work

This location is usually a Dewey Decimal number based on the subject of the item. Examples:

  • For Cooking, enter 641
  • For Canadian History, enter 971
  • For New DVDs, enter new dvd

Don’t know the Dewey Decimal number or shelf location? Use a Keyword search instead.