Category Archives: Library Catalogs

Behind-the-Scenes: OCLC’s WorldCat

Having used OCLC’s WorldCat (?) for my entire professional career I was pleased to see Roy’s post detailing a recent tour of the OCLC computing facilities. It is interesting to see how much physical space is required for mass storage and how those space demands have shrunk over the years. Roy goes on to describe the amount of data:

Bill Rogge, who is giving the tour, points out a long structure taller than us that holds a tape library for mass storage. And he means mass. How does ten Petabytes sound? Think you could store enough music and videos on that to keep your teenagers happy? For hard disk storage there is a relatively paltry 180 Terabytes, which is nonetheless still enough to keep your teenagers happy.

For those outside the library world, WorldCat can now be searched for free at

VuFind: A 2.0PAC

VuFind, an open source project launched by Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library, looks to be a very feature-rich overlay to the traditional online catalog. Although still in beta, it appears to be working toward implementing many of the same features that I recently saw in a presentation for the AquaBrowser library catalog overlay. The developer(s)? have Voyager covered and have these fine systems on the roadmap (hopefully in this order as my lib is moving to Sirsi): SirsiDynix, III, Aleph, Evergreen, and Koha.


Faster searching with Firefox

Do you spend much time searching online databases, search engines, and/or library catalogs? Do you use Firefox? If you answered “Yes” to these questions, Firefox has a built-in solution that can streamline the search process by allowing you to search your favorite engines, article databases, and/or library catalogs directly from the location bar.

Part of my daily work as a librarian is searching. I search library catalogs, article databases, search engines, and other research tools available through my library. I use many of the same resources over and over throughout the day and grow tired of pointing and clicking my way through the library’s website in order to launch the search screen of the desired tool. A common resource might be several mouse clicks deep into the library’s site. The navigation and search process for a simple catalog or database search goes something like this:

  1. Browser window
  2. Library web site
  3. Database gateway (research by subject or alphabetical list)
  4. List of databases
  5. Database search screen
  6. View results

That might not seem like a great deal of time to the average person, but I usually have a patron standing in front of me (or on the phone) who wants to know if we have the latest bestselling book or a request for a copy of the article on washing machines from last month’s Consumer Reports. It’s within this context that I find it helpful to execute a search query from the location bar of the browser window and have the results displayed on my screen in a matter of seconds. Here’s an example query from a blank browser window that searches Google:

A Google search
In the above image, the text you see in the location bar “goog information literacy standards” will send a query to Google for the three words that I entered (information, literacy, and standards.) The ‘goog‘ is the keyword that I’ve designated for the Google search engine and everything that appears after it is what I’m telling Google to find. Hit enter on the keyboard and the results will appear on the screen.

GoogleQuick Search Results

So, by taking advantage of the custom keyword bookmark feature in Firefox, I am able to streamline the navigation and search process to make it look like this:

  1. Browser window
  2. Go to the library web site
  3. Open the database gateway (research by subject or alphabetical list)
  4. View list of databases and link to selected resource
  5. Database search screen
  6. View results
How does it work?

Unlike Internet Explorer, Firefox allows you to assign a keyword for a search URL so that you can query a search engine, library catalog, or database by typing in the assigned keyword followed by a search query in your browser’s location bar. In previous versions of Firefox this was known as a Quick Search (although this phrase no longer appears to be used to describe this search method, I continue to refer to it as such.)

Making Your First Quick Search Bookmark

If you don’t already have Firefox installed, you can download it from

Follow these steps to create your own Quick Search bookmarks for those sites you use on a frequent basis:

  1. At the search form, right click in the search box and choose the “Add a keyword for this Search…” option.
    Adding a keyword search for
  2. At the “Add Bookmark” window give your bookmark a name (this is the name that will display whenever you browse your bookmark file) and assign a keyword. The keyword you assign here is what you will use when executing a search from the location bar. Pick something that’s logical and that you’ll remember. For this site I’ve chosen ‘ask’ as my keyword. Click “OK” when your done. That’s it.Configuring the bookmark

You should now be able to execute a search for from the location bar by typing: [your keyword] + [your search words]. So a search for ‘information literary standards’ would look like this:

ask information literary standards

Hit enter and the search results from will appear on your screen:
Running the search from the location bar

Viewing the results

Searching Catalogs and Databases

While the previous examples focused on free search engines, the same process can be applied to other research tools like library catalogs and subscription databases. Here’s a list of some of the resources I search using the Quick Search method:

  • Ebsco databases such as Academic Search, MasterFILE, Business Source, etc.
  • ProQuest databases such as The New York Times.
  • Library catalogs from vendors such as Innovative Interfaces, SirsiDynix, Endeavor, etc.
  • Online bookstores such as, or
  • eBay

When using the Quick Search method for catalogs and databases you might consider establishing several Quick Searches for each resource. For example, I use the following keywords for my local library catalog:

  • k – to run a keyword search
  • kav – to run a keyword search that is limited to audiovisual materials
  • t – to run a title search
  • a – to run an author search

Configuring Limit Options

The research databases available for searching at many public and academic libraries give users with a great deal of control over the results via limiting. For example, users can limit settings in databases to only show items that:

  • are owned by the library
  • are available in full text through the database
  • were published within a specified date range
  • were published in peer-reviewed journals
  • are a specified length (e.g, between 5-10 pages long, or greater than 3 pages, etc.)

The Firefox Quick Search can be used to include these limits as well. To do this:

  1. Visit the search form for your resource (search engine, catalog, database, etc.)
  2. Configure the search limits and then
  3. Follow the directions described above.

Manually Editing Bookmarks

In some cases it may be necessary to manually edit your bookmark to properly configure where your search terms appear in the URL. The directions Mozilla provides for doing this are:

You can also create it manually:

  1. Do a search on the site you want to add a quicksearch to.
  2. Bookmark the page you are brought to (the results page).
  3. Open the Properties dialog for your new bookmark.
  4. In your bookmark’s URL (the Location field), find and replace what you searched for with %s (If it does not appear, you cannot use a quicksearch here)
  5. Add a keyword

Library Catalog Search Forms

This page links to example library catalog search forms and the source code used to create them. The institutions covered here are all members of the Pittsburgh Blackboard Users Group. These are working forms that teaching faculty and librarians can use to experiment with the integration of library-related content into a course management system. The code for your institution’s library catalog can be copied and pasted into Blackboard or embedded into any webpage.

Community College of Allegheny County
Community College of Beaver County
Duquesne University
Point Park University
Thiel College