Searching Textual Collections
Many textual collections offer a choice of searching either the "Bibliographic Records" (the descriptive information about the texts) of the "Full Text" of the text documents. Understanding a little about the differences between the two, can help you target the materials you want. In most cases, you will be able to search
either the bibliographic records or the full text but not both at the same time. (See What American Memory resources are included in this search? for individual collection details.)
Choose a Bibliographic Record Search to find the following:
- What is a Bibliographic Record?
- The phrase "Bibliographic Record" is used loosely, within the American Memory site, to mean "descriptive information" about an item or group of items. Our bibliographic records are comparable to traditional library catalog records. Although our bibliographic records are diverse, the use of words and logical structure is more consistent than the text documents themselves.
- Most online bibliographic records will include a title, author(s) or other creator(s), and subject terms assigned by a cataloger or subject expert. Collections may include descriptive notes, information about the format and publication of the original item, and other descriptive "metadata." The bibliographic records reflect the original collection cataloging, which was influenced by the quality of descriptive information acquired along with the collection, the nature of the collection items, and changing cataloging practices.
Known Item - Bibliographic records are shorter; your search will be more efficient in finding a particular known item.
Author, Creator, or Publisher - Bibliographic records are shorter; your search will be more efficient in producing a list of the works by a particular author, creator or publisher.
Person, Place, or Event - Searching the bibliographic records for events, places, and people will uncover material whose central theme is about the search term used. For example, searching the bibliographic records for lincoln assassination will find works about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (Searching for lincoln assassination in the full text of the first-person narratives in the California As I Saw It collection will find passages describing reactions to the assassination.)
General Topic - Topical subject terms used within Bibliographic Records will often be fairly broad, such as law, politics, agriculture, and will describe the overall themes of the work. If the words you use do not retrieve useful documents, try searching the full text, particularly for more specific terms.
Choose a Full Text Search to find the following:
- What is Full Text Searching?
- The phrase "Full Text" is used loosely, in the American Memory site, to mean any digitized version of text based material. Search strategies should take into account that text based materials are much less consistent than bibliographic records in word choice and document structure.
One use of the full text search feature is to enter (preferably by copying and pasting) a sentence or paragraph that is on
the topic you are interested in and that contains many words that characterize the topic. A full text search will retrieve
other documents with similar passages. For example, the sentences below, if copied into the full text search box and used
as a search query, will locate passages about irrigation:
- A flowing well, wherever it can be got at moderate cost, answers admirably for irrigating purposes; and a
well of seven-inch bore will water a considerable piece of land. Gardens and pleasure-grounds are
commonly irrigated in this State by means of windmills, which pump water into small tanks.
- Document Parts - Long documents, such as books, have been divided into logical parts for convenient presentation and searching. The most common example is for books to be separated into chapters. However, some works do not have chapters and are broken into parts on a different basis. When you search the full text of a collection, each document part is considered a separate item. A search may retrieve several parts from the same book.
- Book Navigator - Each long document part links to a full listing of the document's parts, and appears similar to a table of contents. This list is known as a book navigator. If the original print document contained a table of contents, this table of contents will be presented as part of the document and does not replace the book navigator.
Person, Place, or Event - Searching the full text for events, places, and people may uncover material relevant to you but peripheral to the main theme of the work. For example, searching for lincoln assassination in the full text of the first-person narratives in the California As I Saw It collection will find passages describing reactions to the assassination. (Searching the bibliographic records for lincoln assassination will find works about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.)
Specific Topic - If the words you use do not retrieve useful documents in Bibliographic Record Searching, try searching the full text, particularly for more specific terms. Searching the full text may also identify works with significant sections on specific topics within a more general whole.
Concepts - Concepts or ideas not defined by one subject term.
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