Dealing with Special Retrieval Problems

Searching for Bible Passages

Warning: LC has proposed significant upcoming changes to the format for Bible entries which may be implemented in 2010.

Although the subject category includes bible passages, you should always use the BiblePassage category for these searches. This will increase the precision of your searches. Library of Congress form of entry for a bible passage looks like this: >> Bible. N.T. John X, 1-18

There is no need to specify "Bible. N.T." or "Bible. O.T." in a BiblePassage search. Just a book and optional chapter is sufficient.

genesis BiblePassage

The Library of Congress uses Roman numerals to designate chapters in the Bible and Arabic numerals to designate verses. Thus you must search for John X not John 10. If you try to search for John 10 in the "everything" or subject category you may in fact retrieve a few records that happen to mention John 10 in their titles. You may therefore think you found "everything" on John 10. Not so! Don't be misled. Use Roman numerals and use the BiblePassage category.

Arabic NumeralRoman NumeralArabic NumeralRoman Numeral Arabic NumeralRoman Numeral

LC frequently assigns headings for a range of chapters like "Romans IX-XI" for Romans 9-11. A search for a chapter in the midst of a range (like Romans 10 in the example) will not match this heading because the target term does not actually appear in the heading. While a search for "Romans X" would match some records, it would miss the "Romans IX-XI" heading. You must or terms to get more, like this:

Romans (IX or X or XI) BiblePassage

This is why it is sometimes helpful to Browse Bible passages, looking for ranges of chapters. However, be warned this can be tedious in that you may have to browse through very many screens to determine the common ranges. This is especially true because chapters sort in alphabetic, not numerical order.

Most items in the library catalog are book-length works. Relatively few are limited to a specific range of verses. So it is usually fruitless to search for specific verses. Rather, search for chapters or whole books of the Bible. Periodical article databases, on the other hand, are apt to cover mostly works on small portions of scripture, so verse-specific searches make good sense in periodical databases.

LC designates ordinal books of the Bible as "1st" and "2nd", for example 1st Kings, not 1 Kings or I Kings or First Kings.

Searching for a Specific Item

Students often type a complete title when they want to retrieve the record for a specific known item. This can be a lot of typing and often fails because of typographical error or just entering a slightly wrong title. A better approach is to search for the author's last name and two words from the title. For example, to search for Charles Swindoll's book, Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart at the Basic Search screen, specify Swindoll and ox cart. Be sure to use and between author name and title word, and to click search everything. It looks like this:

swindoll and ox cart everything

Better yet, use curly braces to specify search categories like this:

swindoll{au} and ox cart{ti} everything

The search above is equivalent to the following search using the PowerSearch form.

author swindoll and
title ox cart

You do not need to supply a full name or a full title, but use common sense. Let's say you want to retrieve the record for The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, by Mark S. Smith. A simple search for Smith and God will retrieve hundreds of records because these words are so common. However, . . .

Smith and other deities everything

works nicely. So does this:

Smith and Yahweh everything

Recovering from "Item not found"

When BIBLOS is unable to find any records matching your search criteria, it issues an error message on the top line ("Item not Found") and displays a sorted list of entries in the alphabetical vicinity of the first word in your search statement. For example, the search

escatology subject

retrieves nothing (because eschatology is not spelled correctly) and the display in Figure 750 is produced.

Click for enlarged image.

Figure 750: Item Not Found; Automatic Browse

If the first word in your search statement is in an author category, then a browse of author names is displayed; if the first word in your search statement is in the title category, then a browse of titles is produced, etc. Because the "item not found" error condition automatically produces a browse display, you should habitually enter names last name first (the way they are sorted). That way, a failed search results in a helpful browse display. Likewise, it is good practice to enter the first word of a title in a title category search.

Stop and think when you get an "Item not Found" error message.

  • Did your original search contain a spelling error or typographical error? This is the most common cause of failed searches.
  • Do you see a helpful entry on the browse screen, such as an approximate match? Pursue it.
  • Are you looking for material on a specific subject? Finding nothing? See Search Skills for some suggestions about how to pick good search terms, how to pick alternative databases, etc.
  • Are you searching for a person's name? Browse last name, first initial.
  • Are you trying to find a specific known title? Consider the possibility it is included in a larger work or collection. For example, you cannot find Luther, "Comfort When Facing Grave Temptations" with a direct title search, but it is in volume 42 of Luther's Work's. Likewise, an English translation of "The Apocalypse of Zephaniah" is not findable with a simple title search, but it is collected with other intertestamental and early Christian pseudepigrapha in Charlesworth, Old Testatment Pseudepigrapha 1:497-515.
  • Looking for something the library does not own? WorldCat will tell you if other libraries near you own it. A TexShare card will enable you, as a DTS student, to borrow books from many libraries throughout the state of Texas. Finally, there is Interlibrary Loan, a system to help you obtain materials from all over the world. (That's a link for Dallas campus students only; extension or distance students should see this instead.)

Recovering from "Partial matches too many terms"

Use of the dollar sign wild card with a very short root may overload the system with too many matching terms. The system responds with an error message and a browse screen. For example, the search

Bi$ everything

will generate this condition. In such cases, you may want to adopt one of these approaches.

  • pick a term from the browse list
  • search again, but specify a longer root (e.g. Bibl$)
  • search again, but or many terms together (e.g. bible or biblical)

Diacritical Marks, Special Characters and Punctuation

BIBLOS uses the ANSEL character set. (Extended Latin Alphabet Coded Character Set for Bibliographic Use = ANSI Z39.47). There are a few characters used in BIBLOS that are not included in the character set your web browser displays; these characters will display as asterisks. You cannot search for these characters because there is no way of entering them at the keyboard unless you have a very unusual configuration. They are very rare.

It is possible to use umlauts and acute and grave accents in searches, but how you enter such characters depends on how you have configured your browser and operating system. The good news is that it is not necessary to use diacritics; just ignore them. For example, to search for >> Tübingen just ignore the umlaut and search for >> Tubingen Likewise, you may ignore acute and grave accent marks.

While it is possible to search for some special characters like >> Kierkegaard, Søren (ø = "o slash") you can usually substitute the nearest equivalent, like this: >> Kierkegaard, Soren (normal o )

Punctuation is indexed in multiple ways. Ampersand (&), and back slash (\) are ignored, that is, indexed as if they didn't exist. These characters are also ignored in a search statement. So a search for "R&D" or "RD" will both be treated as a search for "RD" and both will match either "r&d" or "rd" in a record. Search for the magazine Books & Culture as "Books & Culture" (the ampersand will be ignored) or as "books culture" or "books and culture" but not "booksculture" (no space). As a rule, assume all other punctuation is converted to spaces. Periods are converted to spaces except when embedded in digits as a decimal mark. Thus an author search for "N.T. Wright" is treated as "N T Wright" (n space t space Wright). A search for "NT Wright" (N adjacent T) would fail to match "N.T. Wright", the form used by some publishers. Hyphenated words are double posted (indexed both with and without the hyphen) but an explicit hyphen in a search expression will match only an explicit hyphen in a record. So searching for "ultra-dispensational" (with a hyphen) will match only the hyphenated form of the word, but searching for "ultra dispensational" (space between two words) will match both the hyphenated and the non hyphenated form. Searching for "ultradispensational" (no space, no hyphen) will match only that exact form of the word. All other punctuation marks are converted to spaces.

Avoiding Overuse of the "Everything" Category

Many library users overuse the "everything" category and underuse the other categories. Searches in the "everything" category may retrieve many irrelevant citations. For example, a search like

john everything

for the Gospel of John retrieves thousands of irrelevant items. But a search using the proper category like

john BiblePassage

is much more precise. Why this difference between the "everything" category and the Bible Passage category? Everything includes every word in every field of the catalog records and therefore retrieves books by people named John and books about people named John as well as books about the Gospel of John.

There are numerous other good reasons for using the specific categories rather than the "everything" category, but intelligent browsing and cross reference prompting for failed searches are probably the most important reasons for the inexperienced user. When a search in the "author" category fails, BIBLOS provides a browse list of author names and/or some author cross references. That is likely to be helpful, especially if your search failed just because of a typographical error. But what is BIBLOS to do when a search in the "everything" category fails? Browse authors? Titles? Subjects? BIBLOS always responds to a failed "everything" search with a subject browse display and/or subject cross references. This may not be what you need, and it may falsely lead you to believe you are browsing ALL categories, not just subjects. So make your searches category specific when you can.

Many irrelevant records are retrieved because of false coordination. (See Glossary if you don't know what that means.) This is especially true if you use logical AND and search the everything category, since you can then coordinate terms from anywhere in the record. Use positional operators to reduce false coordination. If necessary, limit your search to LC subject headings by using {de}. The subject+title category includes words from titles and contents notes (like a list of essay titles in a book). Contents notes are long, and words very far apart can combine to retrieve a record. This accounts for a high fraction of false drops in some searches. (Use the glossary for "false drops" if necessary.)

Picking Good Terms and Going Beyond LCSH

Picking good search terms is usually the key to successful searching. Being able to pick good terms is generally more important that being able to formulate complex search statements that use mixed logical and proximity operators, for example. When you are searching BIBLOS, identifying relevant Library of Congress terminology is extremely important. However, LC terminology was not designed specifically for theological research and the LC subject headings assigned to library materials too often fail to provide what you need. For example, titles are often more specific than LC headings. And then there are many databases that do not use LC terminology or indeed use any vocabulary control at all. Just think of using Internet search engines to search the wild and uncontrolled public web. So you need to learn how to use LC terminology, but you also need to learn how to go beyond it. Some suggestions on picking good terms in any database (not limited to BIBLOS) are here. Some homework assignments in RS101 focus specifically on learning how to select good search terms.

Advance to next chapter in tutorial.