Using Filters when Searching for Books for Research Projects

October 1, 2019 | Laura

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Ever been told by a teacher that for your next assignment you need to use books as sources? A REAL BOOK! Not websites, or articles from webpages or even a research database, but an actual book. While I’m hopeful you’ve searched our website for books or resources in the past, sometimes getting to exactly the sort of book you are looking for can be more complicated than you’d expect. We do have over 10 million items in our library, after all.

Even if you aren’t told explicitly to use books for your assignments, it may not be a bad idea to do so and finding the right book doesn't have to be difficult. You may have done searches in our search bar at the top of our webpage for a specific book title or author but it also works well if you are looking for books on a subject you are researching.

If you type in the topic you're researching – we'll use climate change for our example – you will get a bunch of results including books, DVDs, sometimes library programs, ebooks, etc. It can be overwhelming to see the pages and pages of potential results and frustrating if something not super relevant is at the top. (How often do you look past the first result on Google?)

2004 results for climate change search
2,004 results is a lot. And you probably don't want a reference book from 1991!

So how do you make the search results relevant and helpful? By using the filter column on the left-hand side of the page. It's a great way to make the search results work for you and get you exactly what you need. Anything filter you select will be applied to your search results. This includes language, type of material and age level. One of the most important sections when you're doing research is the Subject option, usually located near the bottom of the column.

Climate change search result subject list

This set of filters gives you the Subject Headings associated with the terms you searched for. So, not surprisingly, associated with climate change is "global warming." Most important in this case is the first heading, "climate changes", something we wouldn't necessarily think to search – why write it in the plural? Subject headings allow you to peek into how libraries organize books and information, which isn't always with the most common terms or words we would think of. This is because different libraries often use the same standardized set of subject headings decided on by the Library of Congress to make it easier for libraries to organize, store and access their collections and information. The opposite of this would be "natural language" headings, similar to tags/keywords, but since different people use different terms for the same thing, it can sometimes make finding information difficult.

With our filters, we can click on "Climate changes" under subject, "Adult" under age level (to rule out children's picture books!) and "2017-2019" under Publication Year to make sure the books we're using are recent. We now have a much shorter and more relevant search result for our project. Under "Items that I can..." I've also selected "Borrow and take home" to make sure I can bring everything back home with me, leaving out of the search results books that can only be used in the library.

96 results for climate change search
96 search results sounds like a much easier list to work with.

If I know that I need to research a very specific part of climate change – such as government policy or the psychological impact - I can even select those filters from the Subject list and get the exact books I need.

Try it out yourself for the next topic you are exploring. Happy researching!