Online Catalog Help

The Library regularly updates and maintains this online catalog only, but has also retained for reference purposes the older card catalog. The online catalog, which can be searched here, includes most titles in the collections. 

Reference librarians can provide assistance by calling 202-208-5815.

The catalog may be searched through Power Search, Browse, or Call Number Browse.

Power Search allows you to search by keywords and to combine them to narrow your search. You can also use Power Search for browsing and for exact searches.

Browse allows you to search by one attribute -- either by author, title, periodical title, series, or by subject.

Call Number Browse lets you browse among books as they are arranged on the Library's shelves.

When you've discovered a title of interest to you, click on Full Description to view the details. From that display, you can find other similar titles by clicking on the names of authors, subjects, and series. Going back to the Items Available display you can see the Library's call number (shelf location). Clicking on it lets you browse among other books nearby on the Library's shelves.


Select Your Display

Click on "Change Display" to choose the amount of information you want to see in the records you retrieve. You may choose to see brief or full records, or you can choose to see all fields, the entire record. You can choose an unformatted display, or not.

To get the most benefit from the catalog, users often prefer the "Full" display, and select "No" in the unformatted display drop-down menu.


Power Search

Use the Power Search to search by key words. Power Search also lets you narrow your search when you know more than one attribute of the items you want to locate. It does this by allowing you to combine keywords, authors, titles, periodical titles, series and subjects.

To have your search treat the words you've entered on the search lines as key words, be sure that "Keywords" is selected in the Match on drop-down menu.

To browse alphabetically starting with your search term, be sure that "Left to right" is selected in the Match on drop-down menu.

If you want your search term to match an author, title, or subject exactly, select "Exact" in the Match on drop-down menu.

When words are contained on the same search line, they're searched in relation to each other, but not necessarily in the same order as entered. If they're listed on separate lines, they're searched independently.

Enter words in single quotation marks '...' to search for an exact phrase.

Select AND, OR, XOR, or NOT from drop-down menus on each search line to combine terms.

You can limit your search further by using the pull-down menus below the search lines.

Type allows you to choose among books, CD-ROMs, DVDs, microforms, periodicals, and videorecordings.

Location allows you to search from materials in the General Stacks, Law, Reference, Rare Books, Oversize, the Audiovisual collections, or the Temporary Library (which was set up in Room 2262 of the Main Interior Building during modernization of Wing 1).

Date (year of publication) allows you to limit your search by titles published in a specific year or a range of year. For example,

Exact year: 2012

Range of years: 2005-2010

After a specific year: > 2010

Before a specific year:

You may also use these operators:

Not equal to

>= Greater than or equal to

Note: If you want to search a term that contains one of these operators, you must use double parentheses. For example, if you want to search the title E=mc2, type the following: "e=mc2".

To display retrieved records, you can choose one of the following sorts:

None: the default sort, and used when the results list exceeds 1000 titles; most recently added materials appear first, regardless of publication date
Author: alphabetically by author's last name
Subject: alphabetically by first subject listed
Title: alphabetically by title
Old to New: publication date, with earliest date first
New to Old: publication date, with most recent date first


Unsuccessful Searches

If your search retrieves no titles in the Library, you'll be presented with an alphabetical list of headings that starts with the first word from your search. A search by author returns a list of authors' names, titles retrieve titles, and subject searches return a list of subject headings. Unsuccessful word and phrase searches return an alphabetical list of subject headings.


More Hints on Power Search

Start with a keyword search or browse if you're not sure how the author's name or the title is listed in the catalog.

Punctuation, many special characters, and initial articles are ignored. To search a punctuation mark or a special character as a literal character, enclose it in quotation marks.

Select Periodical Title to search for journals, magazines, newspapers, annual publications or other recurring titles only. This search will retrieve information about the journal or series as a whole, and not records for individual titles or issues within it.

The Series search will identify volumes, issues and numbers published within the series. For example, a Series search for the U.S. Geological Survey's Professional Papers will retrieve several thousand titles. If you're interested in the series as a whole, search for Periodical Titles. Prior to searching it can be difficult to know how a series is represented in the catalog, so it's best to begin by using keyword or browse, rather than exact search, with series.

Exact searches are useful when you want to find a short title, or when you want to limit a subject search to the exact heading and omit subject subdivisions. However, Browse searching can often be a good alternative solution.


Subject Searches

To help you limit your search and to identify relevant titles faster, librarians have assigned subjects to nearly every title in the catalog. Subject headings are generally kept up to date, and are those found in the latest edition of the Library of Congress List of Subject Headings, which is perhaps the most widely adopted subject indexing language in the world.

Type a subject keyword in the Subject box to limit your search to subjects. Then, when you've found a title of interest to you, you can find more like it with an exact subject search. To do this, highlight the Full Description display and click on the desired subject.


Advanced Searching Tips

Stop Words

The catalog system ignores some search words. They are:


a at by if it on
an be do in not the
as but for is of to

These words can be omitted from your search. For example, the search "kill mockingbird" retrieves exactly the same results as the search "to kill a mockingbird." The search will work, but the results are the same as they would have been, had the stop words not been included.

If you need to search using a word that's a stop word, enclose it in double quotation marks. For example: "for" whom "the" bell tolls.

The words used as operators, AND, OR, NOT, SAME, WITH, NEAR, can't be used as search terms unless they are enclosed in double quotation marks.


Substitution and Truncation

The catalog allows the symbols ? and $ to be used to represent substitution and truncation. These two symbols can be used together or separately, and at the beginning, middle, and end of a term.

The ? symbol is used as a substitute for a missing character in a search term, usually when you are unsure of a spelling or when you want to find two forms of one word.

For example, if you enter WOM?N, records containing either "woman" or "women" are retrieved. theat?? retrieves “theatre” and “theater”

Use the dollar sign truncation symbol ($) if you don't know how to spell your search term, or if you want to use various forms of the word. The $ symbol is used to truncate search terms and can represent a single characters, many characters, or no characters.

For example, if you enter JAME$, the catalog retrieves the terms "Jame," "James," "Jameson," and "Jamerton."

If you follow the $ symbol with a number, the number of characters matched is limited to that number. When more than one term in a search expression is truncated, each term is searched for all variations.

For example: ENVIRONMENT$2 retrieves all items beginning with the letters "environment" with 0-2 letters following: "environment," and "environmental," but not "environmentalism.

If too many terms qualify for a truncated search, you will see a message, Item not found perhaps the following list will help. If this happens, a number entered to the right of the $ limits the number of characters replaced by the $.

To literally search these symbols, enclose them with quotation marks.


Exact Phrase Searching

The catalog allows a set of terms to be marked as a single phrase when it is enclosed in single quotes. It must be matched in the catalog, and in the same index, exactly as it was typed in the search box.

For example: 'endangered species' searched in the Title field will retrieve that phrase if it appears in the title.

Enclose stop words or operators included in the exact phrase to be searched with double quotes.

For example: 'elements "of" style'


Combining Search Terms

Combine search terms using these operators:

AND: both terms must appear somewhere in the same record
OR: either one or both terms must appear somewhere in the record
NOT: the second term must not appear in the same record as the first term
XOR: either one or the other term, but not both, must appear in the record
SAME: terms must be in the same field (author, title, etc.)
WITH: terms must be in the same sentence in the same field
NEAR: terms must be next to one another in any order
ADJ: terms must be next to one another in the order that they were entered

Use the drop-down menus or type the operator into the search box.


Positional Operators

Positional operators (SAME, WITH, NEAR, ADJ) locate records in which the search terms are in close proximity. Positional operators can be used to connect words or phrases within a single field entry.

SAME: locates records in which a bibliographic record field contains all of the specified terms.
WITH: locates records in which a field contains a sentence with all of the specified terms.
NEAR: locates records in which a field contains all of the search terms adjacent to each other; however, the order of the terms does not have to match the order they were entered.
ADJ: locates records in which a field contains all of the search terms adjacent to each other and in the order they were entered.

You can append a number to the operators, NEAR and ADJ, to limit or broaden the proximity between words. For example, ADJ2 means that the words may be within two searchable words of each other, but they must be in the order they were entered.

For example, the title From Here to Eternity could be searched as follows:


When the search expression includes more than one term, you can define the order in which these terms are searched. If two operators are at the same level in the list, the catalog first searches the term at the left, then moves right. Refer to the following list for operator precedence, with the highest listed first.








The catalog allows search expressions to be grouped or nested using parentheses. It searches the expression located in the innermost set of parentheses first. It continues the search, moving outward to the terms at the edges of the expression.


Create, View, Print and E-Mail Your Own Bibliography with Kept Items

You can build a bibliography by marking items to keep from a single Search Results hit list.

Click Keep for the items to include in the bibliography. Items can be unmarked by clicking Remove.

When you are finished including items, click Kept.

You can remove some of the items in your bibliography by selecting the check box by the titles to be removed and clicking Remove Checked Titles. To clear the bibliography, click Remove All Titles.

In the Sort By box, choose to sort the bibliography by author, title, or call number.

Choose the All, Brief, or Full View of Records to specify the level of detail to display for each record in the list.

From the Kept page you can choose to view the bibliography online, print the bibliography, or e-mail the bibliography to an address you specify.

During a session, Kept catalog results are included in your bibliography until you remove them. Don't forget to click the Kept button after you have marked an item to Keep in the search results.

Updated October 2022

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