How to find titles in an online library catalog

Some online library catalogs, trying to imitate Google, show only a single search box, which works as a general keyword search. If you want to look up a title, you need to switch to “advanced search,” which is actually less frustrating to use.

Google is a search engine, and the online library catalog is a database with multiple indexes. You need a screen that will let you choose which index to search. The better-designed catalogs offer a choice between “title” and “title keyword” search boxes.

For “title,” type the beginning of the title, omitting the initial article if any. In English, articles are “the,” “a,” and “an.” If any of these are the first word, leave it out. Omit initial articles from all other languages, too.

If the item you want has a long title, you do not need to type it all so long as you put in enough to get to distinctive words. For example, if you want to locate The trumpet & trombone in graphic arts, 1500-1800, you need go no farther than the “gr” in “graphic.” Simply searching “trumpet and trombone” will turn up more titles, but the one about graphic arts will still probably be on the first screen of results.

Don’t worry about whether the title has “and” or “&.” You can safely type “and” (or the equivalent in another language); a cataloger has (or should have) put the title in the record both ways. And don’t bother with capitalization. Nothing but the first word, proper names, or German nouns will be capitalized in the catalog. Search boxes, whether in Google or in an online library catalog, are not case sensitive.

“Title keyword” comes in handy for long titles where all the distinctive words are at the end or for when you don’t remember the title exactly but remember several important words. Enter only keywords from the title and separate them with “and.” For the title in the last paragraph, the search “trumpet and graphic” should suffice to get the record you want.

In my previous posts about finding names and subjects, I have had to explain the concept of controlled vocabulary. Generally speaking, titles are not controlled. If, for example, a book has one title on the title page, a different one on the cover, and something else again on the spine, the cataloger simply enters all of them in the record. Type in whatever you know, and if the library has the item, your search will turn it up.

But what if you want something that is available in more than one language? For example, English translations of Dostoyevsky’s novels may be available with different English titles. In that case, librarians regard the original language as the preferred title, subject to vocabulary control so everyone always uses the same one . You will recognize a preferred title in a cataloging record because it is a hot link.

Suppose for example, you find his A raw youth. The record also shows the preferred title Podrostok. English. It has been translated into English at least three times; the other titles are The adolescent and An accidental family. If your library owns all three titles, you can choose which you want to read. If someone else has its only copy of A raw youth and you have no need of a particular translation, you know that the other titles translate the same book.

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