Searching Electronic Databases
SJD Colloquium Training
Kincaid C. Brown
University of Michigan Law Library
About the Slideshow
pursuant to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
Campus Library Basics
- There are 3 campus library systems: the Law Library, the Kresge Business Administration Library, and the University Library System.
- The University Library System is comprised of a number of libraries including the Hatcher Graduate Library, Taubman Medical Library,
the Science Library, and others.
- As a law student you have access to all 3 library systems.
UM Library Websites
Each library system has its own web site.
UM Library Catalogs
Each library system has its own online catalog. This is the resource you will use to locate books, series, or journals (at the volume level,
not the article level). Keyword and subject searches will be the best tools for finding resources on your topics.
Each library system provides access to electronic resources from their web page. You can access most available electronic resources from off-campus by authenticating with your Kerberos login/password, when prompted by the proxy server.
Note: Because of the way Kresge chose to set up its proxy server, all electronic resources licensed by the Kresge Business Administration Library
that are not also available via the web site of another library must be used at Kresge.
Terms to Know
- Boolean: search method allowing you to combine words and phrases with AND, OR, or NOT; most electronic databases default to these options; Lexis and Westlaw have the most powerful Boolean capabilities
- Descriptor or Subject: the controlled vocabulary of the database
- Field or Index: the information in electronic database records are assigned to fields or indexes including author, title, descriptor, subject, and country of publication
Terms to Know (continued)
- Limit: a tool where the number of hits for a search can be reduced by restricting hits according to a particular field, e.g. date of publication, language, material type
- Proximity or Adjaceny: ability to specify how close multiple terms in a database record need to be in order to return a hit; phrase search is the most common type; other operators include "adjacent," "within # (of words)", and "near"
Terms to Know (continued)
- Truncation: a symbol placed on the end of a work substitute for one or more characters (e.g. administrat* will retrieve hits for administrate, administration, etc.); often a "*"
- Wildcard: a symbol placed in the middle of a word to replace or substitute for one or more characters (e.g. wom#n will retrieve hits for women and woman); often a "?" or "#"
Things to Remember ...
Most databases provide information that will help you with your research:
- Database Guide - includes important information such as database coverage (dates, type of materials, subjects), search tips, lists of stopwords, and description of database fields
- Search Examples - how to create a search for that database using the tools the database provides (e.g. truncation, field searching, limiting)
Things to Remember ... (continued)
- Thesaurus or Index Browse - provides access to the controlled vocabulary to help you with search terms
- Search History - lists your previous searches so you know what you have already tried
- Hyperlinks - when you click on a hyperlink in a record you will run a search using that field and text
Example Database: WorldCat
WorldCat is a database containing the holdings of libraries across the world. You would use this to find monographs and other volume-level (not article-level materials).
- Index allows you to browse for entries in a particular field
- Subject allows you to search for subject headings used in the database and to find broader and narrower terms
- Previous Searches provides your search history
Example Database: WorldCat (continued)
Two main search types (ignoring the "Basic Search"):
- Advanced Search: 3 Boolean search boxes with field restrictions; limits include publication year, material type, and language; sort options
- Expert Search: Text entry box with the same limits; operators listed at bottom
Can also hyperlink to results from Subject browse
Examples: (cn: judiciary) and (cn: senate) and (kw: court*) and (kw: camera+) provides the same results as (kw: (camera+ and court*)) and (cn:(judiciary and senate))
(kw: "air pollution") or (kw: air n5 kw: pollution) and kw: europ?3 (note when search run "air pollution" becomes air w pollution) hits can be lessened by changing search to ((kw: "air pollution") or (kw: air n5 kw: pollution)) and (ti: europ?3 or de: europ?3)
Example Database: IFLP
Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals is a searchable index covering non-Anglo-American Law.
- Database Guide provides a detailed description of fields and other search operators
- Index (tab) allows you to browse entries in a specific index
- Note also: search examples provide truncation and wildcard operators; Search History (tab); can use more limits by clicking "More" below the date limit; print/download/email icons
Example Database: IFLP (continued)
Two main search methods:
- Search (i.e. Simple Search) - one data-entry box with limited field restriction possibilities
- Advanced - three data-entry boxes with all field restriction and boolean connectors
Can also hyperlink to results from Index browse
Example: Finding articles on air pollution: Descriptor-Index browse for pollution finds a few articles under "pollution-air" heading; simple search for "air pollution" finds more. Why? Look at the records, aside from the entries with "air pollution" in the title, there is another descriptor heading for this topic - "environmental-protection-air."
Example Database: LegalTrac
LegalTrac is a searchable index of English language anglo-american and international legal journals and newspapers.
- Limit options are hidden in the "Basic Search" (click on link "More Search Options") but show for other searches
- Search history available with "previous searches" link - can hyperlink to the results lists
- Results are split onto separate tabls according to publication-type
- Publication Search allows you to search for a journal title and to look at all of the articles in a particular issue - helpful for symposia on your topic
Example Database: LegalTrac (continued)
Three main searches:
- Basic: one data-entry box and can search within keyword, subject, or entire document (either full-text, abstract, or index only depending on source)
- Subject: one data-entry box to search for subject terms
- Advanced: three (but can add more) data entry boxes that can be restricted by field
Subject search example: "air pollution" provides 9 main subject headings with over 900 entries; provides links to related subjects and (more narrow) "subdivisions")
Advanced search example: "air pollution" (subject) and "europ*" (keyword) provides only 10 academic journal hits; after looking at subject of 2d hit ("EU Softens Stance") see that "emissions" is an on-target subject heading and new search of (su (european union)) And (su (air pollution)) Or (su (emissions)) provides more articles.
Example Database: Lexis-Nexis Congressional
Lexis-Nexis Congressional indexes or contains full-text U.S. Congressional documents including reports and hearings.
- Can find/include controlled vocabulary terms in the "Basic" search through the hierarchical organization via the "Index Terms" link
- "Congressional Materials" link tells you which publication types are included in this database.
Example Database: L-N Cong'l (continued)
- Note: date restriction automatically latest 2 years
- Note: "How to Build a Search String" includes information on truncation, proximity operates, wildcards, and provides example searches.
- Note: additional helpful information at "About Bills, Resolutions and Laws" and "Congressional Session Dates."
Example Database: L-N Cong'l (continued)
Three different searches:
- Basic: up to two terms connected by a boolean operator searched in abstract, title, indexing information (broad subject), or other major bibliographic data
- By Number: Congressional publications are assigned a number so this is a useful search mechanism if you have a particular document to find and know its number
- Advanced: can search within particular collections of documents and search for terms within a particular field or in the full-text of a document
A search for "air pollution" alone in all fields including full text pulls up over 450 documents for the latest 2 years. A search for "air pollution" alone in all fields except full-text cuts the results down to 55. Note that in the full-text search, not all of the documents are full text, some are abstracts and summaries (the full-text of which were searched).
Using the proximity locators provides better hits (and many fewer to sift through) than using "and:" see results (caseload and federal and court*) vs. (caseload w/10 federal w/10 court*).
Full-text can also be used to cut down hits from searching fields: limit Serial Set hits from "five civilized tribes" (not f-t) to those discussing transfer to Oklahoma with by anding "oklahoma" (all fields incl. full text); also try "five civilized tribes" and "oklahoma" or "indian removal" (index term)
- Full-text searches may return a large number of hits that are not on topic simply because the search term is mentioned once.
- Cut down off-target hits through limits, additional full-text search terms with boolean or proximity connectors, or additional search terms restricted to specific record fields.
- Lexis and Westlaw provide the most powerful search mechanisms and allow the most complex search strings for searching documents in full text
Searching the Internet
Sometimes Google isn't the entire answer
- When looking for a document from a governmental body or other organization you may not find it using Google. Google the organization web site and then look there.
- You can get ideas of sites to look in by reviewing library electronic resources lists or research guides.
- Remember to evaluate a web site where you find information for currency, authority, and agenda (is the information pure or has a posting web site spun/edited to fit its own aims).