Electronic and Web Sources

Searching in the electronic reference environment

Keyword searching is the most common type of search in an electronic reference service environment. Searching by using keywords, even if they are part of an authority list or controlled vocabulary, allows for the best recall in searches across a variety of databases. Many library catalogs are offering the ability to search across multiple databases at the same time you search your own library catalog, giving patrons and librarians the ability to gather information from books, magazine and newspaper articles, government documents, and internet sources simultaneously.

Since these sources all assign different subject headings and use different controlled vocabularies, subject searches may not be as effective as keyword searches. You can search for keywords within a particular field, such as a title keyword search, or you can search across multiple fields in a general keyword search.

The electronic searching environment also allows you to limit, sort, and organize data very effectively. While searching specific subject headings allow you more precision, quite often you will want to maximize your recall on searches and then use limiting and sorting to acquire more precise information sources.

Electronic resources

Many indexes and directories and other reference works now exist in electronic format. Some have hard copy (paper) equivalents and some do not.

Through your central library or library system you have access to these files for your patrons, if you don't have them at your own branch. Many databases are now funded through government grants and are accessible to any Minnesota library or resident with a library card.

What are the ADVANTAGES of these electronic files?

  1. Speed of searching.
  2. More access points.
    Paper files must be arranged in one logical order (for example, alphabetically) with separate indexes for each additional way of looking up something.
    This limits the ways you can search.
    An electronic file on businesses for example, may have dozens of different ways to find the information: telephone number, date of incorporation, size of business, etc.
  3. Ability to combine terms.
    It's possible to search under multiple access points all at once.
    For example, you can easily get a list of businesses in Minnesota with sales over $10,000,000 that employ under 100 people.
    Such searching would have been extremely time consuming to do manually.
  4. Ability to get information not otherwise available.
    More and more information now exists only in electronic format, especially via the Internet.

Go to Types of Electronic Information.

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This page was last updated on August 14, 2003.