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ITAL 4600 Once Upon a Time in Italy (Magnanini): 3. How to Search

Using this page

Use this page to become familiar with searching techniques before you go on to the "Where to Search" page in this guide. 

Using Keywords to Search Databases

The search below is an example of how you might find results about a story (in this case, "Sleeping Beauty") along with a specific focus on either stepmothers or dragons. The AND in the dropdown menu box makes sure your results combine the ides contained in the other two search boxes. 

Tip: Use the OR between synonyms or closely related words or concepts. OR will return any of those terms in the results, so you may get either one of the terms below. Use it between terms where you want at least one of the terms to show up in your results. 

Boolean-style search in ProQuest's MLA International Bibliography with keywords

Searching Techniques

Finding materials in library databases, catalogs, or online requires similar skills. Below, I’ll explain two approaches. I’ll also include some additional tips and tricks:

1.    Finding something you know the name of – (known search)
  • If you know what you’re looking for, one of the easiest ways to find it is through phrase searching. Use quotation marks around a proper name or phrase to find an exact match: “to be or not to be” or “Andalusian Dog.” Use this technique everywhere from Chinook to Google to library databases.
  • If you’re in a database or the catalog (OneSearch or Chinook), you can do a combined title and author search from the Advanced Search Screen. Adding as many fields (title, author, publication date) as you know will help you find your item faster. This is called field searching.

OneSearch Advanced Search Screen with Title and Author search fields in use

2.   Finding an unknown item – (unknown search)
  • Enter some keywords related to your topic in the search box. For example, Salvador Dali surrealism. You should get some results. In some databases or search engines, you may have to add the connector ‘AND’ in between your keywords: Salvador AND Dali AND Surrealism (or, turn the first two into a phrase: “Salvador Dali” AND surrealism). This is called Boolean searching. ‘OR’ and ‘NOT’ are other Boolean connectors and operators, and usually work best when in capital letters. Here's what that looks like in an Advanced Search Screen:

OneSearch Advanced Search screen showing keywords in multiple search boxes connected with AND

  • If you’re not getting results, or you’re not getting the ones you want, try searching for some information in Google or Wikipedia to get different keywords to try. For example, Salvador Dali's experimental film. A natural-language search like that will produce results that will include information about his surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou” or “An Andalusian Dog” from 1929.
Tips & Tricks
  • Even Google has some advanced search features, including Boolean operators
  • The library catalog, Chinook, and OneSearch have lots of options both on the Advanced Search screen, and on the filters that you can use to narrow your search after the fact
  • Many databases (EBSCO, ProQuest, JSTOR, etc.) will let you use a wildcard symbol. The symbol * can be added onto the root of a word, comput* to help you locate all variations of that word: computer, computers, computing, computational… Each database may have its own symbols(# or ?), so be sure to look for a Help Menu or Search Tips
  • When in doubt, you can always contact your Subject Librarian

Finding Literary Works by Title

Once you gather some initial information, you might have found the title of an alternate version of a fairy tale. In order to find that item in University Libraries, you can search for it in OneSearch. Start at the libraries website, and use the main search box to start. 

Tip: If you know the title of what you're looking for, put it in quotation marks to find an exact match.

Search box for OneSearch with "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" in the search field

Finding Literary Works by Topic or Keywords

If you don't know the title of what you are looking for, you can use the information you do know to discover other books and works about similar themes or topics.

Chinook Advanced Search screen showing a search for (cat OR feline) and (helper OR assistant) and (tale OR story OR fiction)

Searching using Library of Congress Subject Headings

Library of Congress Subject Headings are like tags on books and other items that tell you what these items are about. When you use Chinook, you may see strings of terms like these:

Cats -- Folklore

Cats -- Fiction

Stepsisters -- Fiction

Haarlem (Netherlands) -- Social life and customs -- 17th century -- Fiction

Fairy tales -- Adaptations

Fairy tales

You can use these Subject Terms to search. Simply click on one of them to generate a new search. Or combine them using Chinook's advanced search screen to find other works that are tagged as being about the same subjects.

Chinook Advanced Search Screen showing search for Subject: Cats AND Subject: Folklore

Combine Search Words

AND  link words by AND to search for all words in the same resource

OR  link words by OR to search for one word or another (instead of both/all words)

NOT  to eliminate results with a certain term

“Quotations” – add quotations to a group of two or more words to search for the exact phrase 

Broadening and Narrowing Searches

Brainstorming keywords can save you time in the end. When you’re just starting a research project, it’s hard to predict the best terms to use. This is why you will have to try multiple searches. Through this process, you will learn what are the best terms to use.

Now let’s combine your terms into a search statement! You will combine your terms using Boolean Operators: “AND,” “OR,” and “NOT.” 

AND, OR, and NOT Venn diagram

Image from School District of Onalaska tech/boolean-search-tools


Adding an "AND" between search terms will help you narrow your search. For example, if I combine the terms, “minority students” AND “student organizations” AND participation, in an article database, I will only find articles that contain all of these terms and phrases in them.

NOT” also narrows your search by excluding terms. It can be helpful for disambiguation purposes. For example, if I were in an astronomy class, and I was studying Pluto, I might search for “Pluto NOT Disney” to eliminate results about the cartoon dog.


OR,” on the other hand, broadens your search. If I search for, “Black Student Union” OR “Student organizations” OR “extra-curricular activities” OR “student clubs” you will find articles that have at least one of these terms in it.

Using Library of Congress Call Numbers

Photograph of Spine Labels with Library of Congress Call Numbers

Photo by Bronwen K. Maxson. No rights reserrved.

Most academic university libraries us the Library of Congress Classification System to organize their materials. When you walk into the book shelves (for example, the Norlin Stacks), you will not see our books organized by Genre (Fiction, Romance, Mystery). Instead, our system allows us to locate books on similar topics near each other. A Call Number is like a book's address and will get you to a shelf of books on related topics. 

To use a Call Number, check out the link below from the University of Georgia.

If your book is not on the shelf, check the Sorting Shelves to see if we are in the process of returning the the book to it's shelf or ask for help at the Research Desk (level 2) or Bookfinders (level 3). Additionally, if you locate a resource in Chinook, the catalog, with a Dewey Decimal Number, you will have to request it from our off-site facility, PASCAL.

LC Book Classification


General Works


Philosophy, Psychology, Religion


Auxiliary Sciences of History


World History


History of the Americas


History of the Americas


Geography, Anthropology, Recreation


Social Sciences


Political Science








Fine Arts


Language and Literature










Military Science


Naval Science


Bibliography, Library Science