The Library of Congress
Choosing Search Words | Using Special Characters | How are the Results Listed?
Note: The search engine used on the American Memory database is InQuery, developed by the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval based at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and now available commercially from Sovereign Hill Software.
These Search Tips suggest searching strategies. The information you are searching is described on the Searchable American Memory Resources page.
Choosing Search Words
A search is based on terms separated by spaces. If you enter the word gold, the search engine will look for any record that contains this term. Add more terms to look for phrases and multiple subjects. No punctuation
is required (e.g., gold mine or gold california). The results indicate the type
of match found. Exact matches will be listed first.
If you do not find the materials you want, use the following tips to help focus or broaden your search, as needed.
Too Many Hits
If your search retrieves too many records, choose more specific search words:
- Avoid overly general subjects (e.g. war, women, building) which are likely to be found in most collections. Use the Synonym List for alternatives.
- Avoid category headings used to label each section in the bibliographic records. For example, photograph will appear in the MEDIUM section of every record of every photograph in American Memory.
- Look for Subject, Author, Geographic Location, or other lists available from the home page of most collections. Important terms, used in the bibliographic records for that collection, will be listed and linked to records containing each listed term.
- Look for hot-linked Subjects and Authors terms, available inside most bibliographic records. These will be linked to a list of related records. The list returned will include related records found for all collections that were included in your original search request.
Too Few Hits
If your search retrieves too few records, choose less specific words, or add synonyms.
- Use the Synonym List for related terms.
- Look for Subject, Author, Geographic Location, or
other lists available from the home page of most collections. Important terms,
used in the bibliographic records for that collection, will be listed and linked
to records containing each listed term.
- Look for hot-linked Subjects and Authors listed inside a bibliographic record focusing on a subject of interest.
These will be linked to searches for related
records. The list returned will include related records found for all collections
that were included in your original search request.
If you do not find materials you know should be included, try choosing words that were in use when the collections were created.
- Use older language usage rather than modern day usage. Language changes. For example, the following historical terms produce more "hits" than their modern day counterparts:
|gas, service station
||Afro American, Negro
Additional alternate terms may be found in the Synonym List.
- Use the names of towns, landmarks, bridges, and buildings in use at the time the collection was created.
- Search for the nearest large town in existence at the time the collection was created. Towns and cities rise and fall in importance over time.
- Note: Not all collections are searchable. (For details, see the Searchable American
Memory Resources page.)
Some Words or Letters Are Ignored
The following are ignored by InQuery:
- Case of letters (i.e. uppercase or lowercase)
- Some very common words, such as conjunctions, articles and prepositions (e.g. and, not, or the)
(These "stopwords" may be highlighted for you in bold, like regular search terms, in the bibliographic records that are returned.)
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Using Special Characters
Avoid using all special characters unless they are listed below as helpful with InQuery searches.
Characters influencing search results
- Accents and other Diacritics: Type in unaccented letters even when the word usually contains an accent. InQuery is programmed to find both accented and unaccented forms of your term. Attempting to type in characters with accents causes unpredictable search results. For example, frappé is indexed simply as frappe,
and mañana as manana.
- Use an asterisk (*) at the end of a search term to find all records containing that word and other words that begin with that English language stem. For example, tele* returns hits about telephones and telegraphs. However, *phone and tele*ph do not produce the desired results.
- Avoid using the following characters:
Characters NOT influencing search results
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How Are the Results Listed?
Understanding a little about how search results are listed may help you control which records are listed first.
Order of Search Results
The list of records returned is arranged in order of relevance to the
words entered in the search box.
Records listed first are most likely to be
relevant to your search. When two or more words are entered in the search box,
InQuery lists the results
in four groups. The exact matches group is listed first, while the fourth group contains the least relevant
records. Within each group records likely to be more relevant are listed
- To control which records are listed first: Enter the words in the order in which they are most likely to occur in
the text or bibliographic records being searched.
For example, in the California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900 collection, entering the terms overland journey produces 25 exact matches, which are placed at the top of the return list. Entering the same words in a different order, journey overland, produces no exact matches. All records found in the first case are still found (38 total hits), but they are ordered differently.
- Records receive a higher ranking, and will appear higher in the results list when they contain:
- more of your search terms
- repeated search terms
- search terms that occur near each other
- Common words are given less weight than those that occur infrequently in the body of text.
The Library of Congress takes the features InQuery provides and customizes them for enhanced retrieval in response to user feedback.
- Search terms are highlighted in bold in the retrieved bibliographic records or textual documents. (Very common words, such as, and, the, and of, are ignored in the search, but are highlighted in the bibliographic records that are returned. These very common words will not be highlighted in the full text of items returned.)
- When a full text search retrieves a long document, a BEST MATCH link appears
in the header and footer links for that item. Click on the Best Match button to jump to the
portion of text within that document (or document part) which was given the highest
relevancy rating. Your search terms are likely to be repeated or clumped close together
in this passage of text.
NOTE: The search results list remains in a temporary file on the Library's server for at least 1 hour after your last access. After that time, the list is erased.
As with most relevancy ranking schemes, the exact relevancy calculations used by the InQuery search engine, from Sovereign Hill Software, are complex and proprietary.
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