Benbrook Library / Musings

Searching for Hay in a Haystack

Part of the beauty of a digital library catalog is that you can use whatever search terms you want to quickly search all fields in an item’s record. Of course, there’s no guarantee your search will yield results. Usually, being too specific is what gets you in trouble, such as a search for “how to stop your defiant tuxedo cat from treating your living room like an oversized toilet.”* A search like that will give you no results and leave you with no helpful books to take home to your stinky living room. Something broader-yet-still-specific, however, like “cat behavior” or “cat training,” would give you relevant, useful results. Go too broad, though, with something like “cats,” and you’ll be overrun with results, some relevant but many not.

When returning the library’s catalog computer to its home page after it’s been used by patrons for searches, I see all kinds of search terms, from the ultra-specific to the uber-broad and everything in between. Earlier this week, I happened across the granddaddy of all broad searches when I checked the catalog computer and found that the previous user had run a search for “book.” I mean, wow. That’s B-R-O-A-D. That’s broader than the Rock’s shoulders, or the comedy in an Adam Sandler movie. That’s like looking in the phone book for “phone number.” It’s like going to Taco Bell and telling the employee at the counter you’d like highly affordable, fast, and delicious Tex-Mex cuisine: you’re simply going to have to be more specific.

As I bebop and scat all over this search with what pass in my mind for jokes, know that I mean no malice to the person who entered the search term. While it’s possible they were some kind of wisenheimer who gets their jollies from the equivalent of prank calling a computer, it’s also entirely possible the search was legitimate.  Maybe they were looking for a book literally titled “Book,” of which there are several. Maybe they were genuinely trying to locate a book but were flummoxed by the catalog, which admittedly isn’t as intuitive in all facets as we’d like. If you’re ever having trouble operating the catalog, the “Help” tab above the search bar can direct you to instructions on a variety of search-related topics. If you prefer the personal touch of a living, breathing human in assisting you with your search, our staff members are always glad to assist. The world of books is a big, broad place to navigate, but we’re here to help you narrow things down.


*This may or may not be one of the great ongoing problems of my life.

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