Module 4: Search Strategies Overview

Determine the need, and then devise an effective strategy to locate the information.

Did you understand the question?

Never hesitate to admit to patrons that you don’t understand the question. They will generally be glad to explain and will appreciate your interest in the subject.  Being flexible while searching will give the best results. If you are clear on the question, you can almost always find resources for answers.

Search Strategies

The key to successful searching is extracting  the correct question in the reference interview. Once you know what the patron actually needs, you can begin your search. How you think about getting the answer (your search strategy) directs the methods and resources you will use. Below is a list of ways to create an excellent search strategy:

  1. Start broadly, break into parts, and then narrow your search
    • Think broadly about what resources might satisfy your patron’s information need
    • Break down the complex question into manageable bits
    • Narrow the search by checking to see if the question can be restated or organized differently to better find the answer
  1. Consider the most appropriate types of resources to consult
    • Review tools you have on hand, including
      • Books, magazines, newspapers, archives, or indexes
      • Online databases
      • Pamphlet files
      • Government agencies
      • Experts
    • Know the recommended web sources your library identifies or provides, and how they are organized
  1. Use the right keyword and subject headings for the resources you choose
    • Consider all possible index terms or keywords for your search
    • Use broader terms and synonyms to open additional areas of information
    • Use narrower terms for precise searches
  1. Know how to use the reference resources
    • When consulting web search engines, choose carefully. Don’t rely on a single search engine
    • Be familiar with the standard reference source access points, such as table of contents, index, or user guides
    • Know how to narrow or broaden searches and use advanced techniques in search engines and databases
  1. Get the information in the best format
    • Your library has more than books! Search by format in the catalog or search different types of media in the search engines
    • Be aware of library databases that may contain the needed information
    • Search strategies (Boolean, keyword, etc.) may differ according to different databases
  2. If necessary, refer to an expert on the subject
    • Search for experts in the field. Go to other staff members, make phone calls to experts, or ask someone else

Major Point: Get the patron’s real question first, then use a search strategy that will get you to the most appropriate resources.