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SearchWorks basics: Searching the library catalog

Last Updated: 5-Sep-2014

SearchWorks is Stanford University Libraries' official online search tool. It searches metadata about the 7 million+ resources in our collections, and provides access to digital content in the Stanford Digital Repositories and licensed online resources.

Simple search

Start with a simple keyword search

Search failures can result from over-specifying the search. A simple keyword search may return more items than you expect, but the best matches will be in the first page or two.

  • the new york times
  • eric
  • stephan graham thesis

Refine your results with limits

Use the limits in the left sidebar to:

  • get an overview of the results of your search
  • refine the results to a smaller, more focused set.

Once you select a limit, it remains in effect until you remove it: that is, any new search terms you enter in the search box also be limited by the selected values.

Results are ranked by relevance

Results are ranked by their relevance to your search terms, based on:

  • where the words appear in the record (words in the title are ranked higher than words in the content notes)
  • proximity to the beginning of the title, subject, author, etc.
  • number of occurrences of the term within the record

All words are significant

Articles and preposition are included in the search, so that SearchWorks can:

  • distinguish between "archaeology and literature" and "archaeology in literature"
  • distinguish between "capitalism not globalism" (a title) and "capitalism NOT globalism" (a Boolean expression)
  • find works titled "The" or "It" and acronyms like "IT"
  • use words that are meaningful in non-English languages

(See Stopwords in SearchWorks for more details.)

Automatic stemming

Your search automatically includes plural and singular forms, as well as common suffix and tense variations of your search terms. 

  • happy will match records with the term happy or happiness but not happen

Stemming applies within phrase searches as well as keyword searches.

Truncation and wildcards

Use an asterisk to truncate terms that aren't handled by stemming, such as non-English variations:

  • créat* will find création(s), créateur(s)créatrice(s), etc.

You can truncate from the beginning as well:

  • *science finds science, conscience, geoscience, omniscience...

Use a question mark ? to find varations of a single letter in a word

  • kvet?h will find kvetch or kvetsh 

Advanced search

When to use advanced search

Use advanced search when you need to:

  • combine two or more specific fields
  • search by publisher or place of publication
  • combine two or more values of a limit
    • items in either the Music Library or Archive of Recorded Sound
    • Journals and Newspapers published in Spain
  • do complex Boolean logic

In many cases, a simple search will be effective to find a title + author:

  • All fields: history man bradbury

The correct item will typically be in the first 2-3 results.


Find everything by or about Picasso in the Art Library.

  • Match ANY
    • Title: picasso
    • Author: picasso
    • Subject: picasso
  • Limit to Library: Art & Architecture

The results will not include ~300 works that mention Picasso in a content note or review, or other minor mention. These additional items would be retrieved in a simple search, but would be ranked at the end of the results.


You can create complex Boolean logic using AND, OR, and NOT (all in upper-case) and parentheses for nesting.

What is searched in each field

  • All fields
    • All metadata, except call numbers
  • Title
    • main title
    • uniform title
    • title variant (including former title)
    • related title
    • series title (also searchable in a separate field)
  • Author
    • main author
    • contributors (co-authors, advisors, illustrators, etc.)
    • series author
  • Subject
    • database topic (domain headings assigned only to databases)
    • subject headings, including topic, region, era, and genre
    • topic keywords from SDR-deposited items
  • Series
    • series title
  • Place, publisher, year
    • country of publication (e.g. Spain)
    • location (e.g. Valencia)
    • publisher
    • publication date (single year; does not allow date ranges)
    • isbn
    • issn
    • oclc
    • barcode
    • call number
      • in advanced search, call number must be searched in quotation marks, e.g. "JQ1879 .A15 D385"

Working with limits

Limits (aka facets) are terms from the metadata of the items in your search results, grouped and counted. Because limits depend on the presence and consistency of the metadata, they sometimes are not a complete representation of the results. 

If your result set is very large, review the limits to see what Resource types, Authors, or Topics are represented. Select appropriate limits to view only the most relevant results.

Before you search

Select limits before you search if you are certain of the category.

  • If you want only images, select Resource type: Image. 
  • If you want only materials that you can read online, select Access: Online.

If you don't see the results you expected, try removing the limits you've selected. The libraries may have what you want in a different form or location.

After you search

to disambiguate an author's name

A search for author John Barton finds over 200 results by several authors with that name. The author limit distinguishes among the individuals by full name or birth/death dates, allowing you to find the one you want:

  • Barton, John H. (52)
  • Barton, John, 1948- (23)
  • Barton, John J. (12)
  • Barton, John, 1957- (10)
  • Barton, John (7)
  • Barton, John, 1928- (7)
  • Barton, John M. T. (John Mackintosh Tilney), 1898- (3)
  • Barton, John, master of the free school of Kinfare (3)
  • Bartone, John C. (John Charles), 1921- (3)

to search for Java as a geographic location

A search for the subject Java finds over 2,000 results, most of them about the computer programming language. Use the Region limit to focus on the geographic Java:

  • Indonesia (425)
  • Java (Indonesia) (273)
  • Java Sea (Indonesia) (41)
  • Netherlands (24)
  • Java (20)
  • Borneo (14)
  • Java Sea (11)
  • Sri Lanka (11)
  • Indian Ocean (10)

Limit definitions

Is the item available online, or physically at the library? (Many items are both.)
Resource type
The type of content - for example, text, music.
Media type
The physical or encoding format of media.
A histogram shows the distribution of your results by year, decade, or century, depending on the size of the range.
To narrow the date range of your results, use the slider, or enter a start and end year, and click Apply.
Search only the holdings of a specific library. (But caution: no individual library contains all of Stanford's materials on a given topic.) 
Select results created in or translated to a specific language.
Authors/creators of, and contributors to, works in your results. 
The topic covered by works in your results.
The category or style of works in your results.
Call number
Shows how your results are distributed across major disciplines. SUL uses several classification systems: Library of Congress (LC) for most materials; Dewey for some historical holdings; and various government document classifications.
The geographic region covered by works in your results.
The historical period covered by works in your results.
Organization (as author)
Corporate or government entities that are identified as author or are otherwise responsible for content.


Common searches


Use quotation marks "..." to search for a specific phrase. Word-stemming will still occur within the phrase.

SearchWorks finds results that include all the words in the order given, as well as results that may have a word inserted between two words in your phrase. For example:

  • "french beans food scares" would match a record containing
  • "french beans make food scares" but would not match
  • "french beans can make food scares"

Title, Series, Subject

To search a specific type of metadata, select it from the All fields dropdown. 


Select Author from the All fields dropdown. 

Searching by "Last name, First name" is most effective.

  • "Barton, John" (in quotation marks) will find more accurate results than John Barton without quotation marks.

Use truncation to search for a name with only a first initial.

  • Kie?lowski, K* will find Kie?lowski, K. and Kie?lowski, Krzysztof - but the asterisk cannot be combined with quotation marks, so the results will be less specific.

Call number

Select Call number from the All fields dropdown. 

Search from the left:

  • MSS CODEX M0379 CB, not just CODEX M0379

Truncate from the right, if your search doesn't return any records:

  • KF5402 .D38 1994 can be shortened to KF5402 .D38 or even KF5402

Spacing and punctuation are ignored:

  • KF5402 .D32 is the same as KF5402D32

Cite, select, email results


Save relevant items during your search session to email, export, etc.

  1. Check the Select checkbox associated with an item to add it to your list.
  2. The Selections option in the top menu bar shows the total number of items you have selected. When you click Selections, you'll see the 3 most recent items added to the list.
  3. To see all your selected items, select Show list in the Selections dropdown.

On your Selections list, actions affect only the items on the current page. If you have more than 20 selections, you can set the "per page" option to a higher number, so that you can export more items at one time.


On an item page, or on your Selections list, click Cite.

SearchWorks will display the ALA, MLA, and Chicago citation formats for the item(s), for you to copy and paste to a document.


On an item page:

  1. Click Send to...
  2. Select Text.
  3. Enter a phone number, and select the carrier.
  4. Click Send.

The text includes the title and link to the item page. 

Selection lists cannot be shared via text, because of the character limitation of the text message.


On an item page, or on your Selections list:

  1. Click Send to...
  2. Select Email.
  3. Enter an email address and (optional) message.
    (Note: you cannot send email to more than one address at a time.)
  4. Click Send.

The "from" address of the email is ""

Export to bibliography management tools

You can send items to RefWorks or EndNote from SearchWorks. On an item page, or on your Selections list:

  1. Click Send to...
  2. Select the tool you want.
  3. You will be directed to login to your account on the service website.


On an item page, or on your Selections list:

  1. Click Send to...
  2. Select Printer.

Your brower's printer dialog will open. 

The print formats for search results vary by the currently-selected view (Normal, Gallery, Brief).

Find related items

When you find an item that is relevant to your search, you can use it to find related items in several ways.

Browse related items

If the item has a Library of Congress (LC) or Dewey Classification call number, there will be a Browse related items section at the bottom of the record page. This is a virtual shelf view that shows items with call numbers on either side of the one you selected, across all the Stanford libraries. 

Some items have more than one call number (e.g. LC at one library, Dewey at another). You can select the call number to use as a starting point for your browse.

Subject links

Hierarchical subject links allow you to find more items on the same topic, or expand your search to a broader subject area. An item with this subject heading:

  • African American women > Southern States > History > 19th century.

...also links to searches for: 

  • African American women > Southern States > History
  • African American women > Southern States
  • African American women

Just click on the section of the heading that you want to search.

Uniform titles

Items with common titles (such as "Poems") or works that occur in many languages (such as Stravinsky's "Firebird") are typically cataloged with a uniform title that provides a way to bring them together.

For example, this simple search:  

donne poems

retrieves 259 items. The first item includes a linked title ("Poems") below the main title. 

Click that link to do a much more specific search for "Donne, John, 1572-1631. Poems."


What's new in SearchWorks

Logo of the International Image Interoperability Framework

The Stanford University Libraries (SUL) has introduced new features in its online catalog, SearchWorks, and the Stanford Digital Repository to make it easier for users worldwide to get access to a treasure trove of high resolution digital images.  The basis of these new features is the International Image Interoperability Framework, a global initiative co-founded by SUL to support the creation of a global network of broadly accessible images curated and produced by libraries, museums, archives and galleries to support research, teaching and broad public use.  

SearchWorks 3.1

The second round of SearchWorks work has just wrapped up (see part 1). Most of these changes are already visible, with a few more to come over the next week or so. This batch focused on improvements to metadata and availability display; user-requested, usability, and accessibility changes; and new content.

Stanford Library's Digital Library Systems and Services (DLSS) recently announced some enhancements to the Searchworks catalog, including a powerful government documents access point to that makes government documents a "featured resource" and enhances access to our rich and historic California, US Federal, UN, UK and EU documents collections and rapidly expanding number of digital government documents.


You may have noticed some changes in SearchWorks over the past several weeks. We've been working on a list of features prioritized by the SearchWorks Steering Committee and user feedback: new Requests forms, a Government Documents access point, better discovery and display of digital content, new items feed, and more email options.

Here's an end-of-year wrap-up and a look at what's still to come in 2016.

Work on the Player Piano Project (PPP) continues at an impressive pace. Recent achievements include the completed cataloging, by Project cataloger Alyssa Hislop, of the Welte Mignon rolls in the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls, which can now be viewed in Searchworks; a full house at the project’s listening party last Friday; and most recently the launch of a subproject entitled the Piano Roll Scanner Project (PRSP). The PRSP formally marks the start of the digitization phase of the PPP.