One of the keys to successful searching is finding the right word or words to use for your search terms. In the box on the left, we used "avian influenza" instead of "bird flu." How did we know that one term would work better than the other?
Back in the days before computers, library users would have to look for books by sifting through drawers of little cards—one card for each book. If you wanted to find books about cats, would you look in the C drawer for "cats" or in the F drawer for "felines?" In 1898, the librarians at the Library of Congress decided to do something about this problem. They devised a list of approved words, and then listed all the alternate words that the approved words would be used for. This list grew and became standardized, and now it is used all over the English-speaking world. The approved words are called "subject headings" and the list is known as the Library of Congress Authorities.
DBU's library owns a set of subject heading books that can be used to help library users figure out the best words to use in their searches.
However, the list is also available online, and it has also been integrated into most library systems. This makes the search for and use of correct subject headings much easier.
How can you search for the best words? Suppose you wanted to write a paper on the pros and cons of mercy killing. You might use "mercy killing" as your search term. Or should you use "right to die?" Rather than spend all afternoon coming up with synonyms, you can let those smart, government-paid librarians do the work for you.
One way is to go directly to the source: the Library of Congress Authorities are online at authorities.loc.gov. (Click "Search Authorities" when you arrive on this page.) If you type <mercy killing> into the search window, you will see "Mercy killing" with a red button that says "References." Select the red button, and the screen will say "See: Euthanasia." That's the word you need! Click on the word, then the red button, and you'll see a list like this:
If you click on through the links, eventually you will see a list of other terms that the word "euthanasia" should be used for, including assisted death, mercy killing, and right to die.
Does this seem like a lot of work? There's another, easier way to do this, but it might not be so precise. Using the library's catalog, submit a keyword search for "mercy killing." If you see a book in the results list that looks appropriate, click on the title to open the record, then scroll down. Near the bottom, you will see a list of "Related Subjects." Click on "Euthanasia" to view the list of all the books we have on that subject.
Here's another quick and easy way to find the best terms: use EBSCO's Academic Search Complete. (I know—we haven't covered databases yet!) Their Subject Terms list is much easier to use than the Library of Congress system, but it's based on the same basic information. Here's what to do:
- Click here.
- Scroll down to the third box.
- Click the link for Academic Search Complete. (If you're off-campus, use your DBU username and password to log in.)
- Once the Academic Search Complete screen displays, click "Subject Terms" in the blue bar at the top.
- Type <mercy killing> in the "Browsing" box (not the Search box).
- Select the "Relevancy Ranked" button, then click Search.
- You will see "Mercy Killing—USE EUTHANASIA"
- At that point, you can make a note of the word, then use it to search the catalog. Or you can click on the word EUTHANASIA to see a list of related words and terms.