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SearchBox Development Blog

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SearchBox Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q. What is SearchBox?
A. SearchBox is a Google-style search experience for the vast majority of the library’s electronic resources, the WRLC catalog, and other locally available content (e.g. Library Subject Guides, American University Digital Repository). From a single box, SearchBox searches full-text content, article citations, and library catalog records and returns a list of results ranked by relevance.

It is the place to start your search for scholarly journal and newspaper articles, books, videos, maps, manuscript collections, music scores and more. From your search results, it’s just one step to accessing the full text of articles, or to seeing if a book is on the shelf.


Q. What information is covered in SearchBox?
A. SearchBox retrieves citations from most, but not all, of the library‘s resources; each citation includes a link to either the online version of the item or to a record that indicates where a version is located within the American University Library or other Washington Research Library Consortium institutions. Resources included in SearchBox are as follows:

Q. Okay, so, what databases are included in SearchBox?
A. SearchBox does not actually search our databases directly. Instead, it indexes information (often including full-text) from articles, books, and library records, and then directs us to where that content is available – either online or in the library. Over 6,800 publishers are represented in SearchBox, totaling over a half-billion articles from nearly 100,000 journals, newspapers and magazines. For a complete list of publishers and titles, please see http://www.serialssolutions.com/summon-content-and-coverage/.

Q. How do I get to SearchBox?
A. To search in SearchBox, simply go to http://www.american.edu/library, enter your search terms in the box next to the SearchBox logo, and click “Search Library Content.”

Q. When should I use SearchBox?
A. SearchBox is very useful for a variety of tasks that are more difficult with other search products. For example, it can be useful in any of the following scenarios:

  • As a starting place for your research.
  • If you need to quickly retrieve high quality items on a particular topic (Example: "I need three good sources on <fill-in-the-blank>.”).
  • If you are interested in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research (Example: "I'm looking for information about how global warming is affecting the health of populations in developing countries.").
  • If you know the citation of an item and just want to get that article (Example: "My professor asked me to get all the articles that are listed in this bibliography.").

Q. When shouldn't I use SearchBox?
A. While SearchBox can be very useful in scenarios like the ones noted above, it is less useful for other tasks, such as the following:

  • If you need to retrieve statistical/financial data, do not use SearchBox. (Check the resources listed at our Finance and Real Estate Guide or Statistical Information Guide.)
  • If you need to perform in-depth searches that require extensive use of a database's controlled vocabulary, do not use SearchBox. (Use a subject specific database such as PsycINFO or Sociological Abstracts to complete sophisticated search strategies.)
  • If you need to retrieve results from art image databases (like Art Images Collection or ARTstor) and not just articles about art.

Q. SearchBox sounds a lot like Google Scholar. Why wouldn't I just use Google instead?
A. SearchBox is similar in its simplicity of search, but it offers some advantages over Google Scholar:

  • SearchBox includes database records from sources like ISI Web of Science, so its coverage should be more comprehensive in some areas than Google Scholar’s.
  • SearchBox is fully integrated with the WRLC Catalog and the library’s electronic resource holdings, so it will direct you automatically to the online version of your article, provide easy access to CLS and ILL links if there's no full-text available, and let you search for locally available materials all at once.
  • SearchBox has a variety of easy export options, including integration with EndNote and other tools used for managing references and bibliographies, to allow you to save your search results.
  • SearchBox defaults to materials that we have access to, unlike Google Scholar – which cannot distinguish between subscribed and non-subscribed content. Selecting the option “Add results beyond your library’s collection” will show you search results that can be requested via ILL.

Q. Is SearchBox replacing the WRLC Catalog or <fill-in-the-blank> database?
A. No, SearchBox is not replacing the WRLC Catalog or any current database subscriptions. SearchBox is a search engine and, as such, is more a gateway to the library’s databases, online journal subscriptions, and catalog content. Individual databases are still available for more complex and sophisticated searches that take advantage of controlled vocabularies or specialized platform features.

Q. When do I need to search individual databases?
A. Although SearchBox returns a wide range of results very quickly, you can often be more precise in structuring your search when you do so directly in individual databases; and, remember, SearchBox does not contain absolutely everything that AU subscribes to electronically.

Q. Can I do complex searching in SearchBox?
A. Yes. In the simple search box, SearchBox offers several search options. For example:

  • You can use the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT, - (minus sign). The AND operator is assumed if you just type in a string of words.
  • To search an exact phrase, use quotation marks. For instance, the query "global warming" will return only results with that phrase.
  • To find multiple spellings of a word, use the wildcards ? and *. The question mark (?) will match any one character. Typing "Ols?n" will therefore search for "Olsen" or "Olson," along with other variations. The asterisk (*) will match zero or more characters within a word or at the end of a word. For example, typing “stereotyp*” will therefore search for “stereotype,” “stereotypes,” and “stereotypical,” along with other variations.

Q. What advanced search options are available in SearchBox?
A. Click on "Advanced Search" for an advanced search page. On the advanced search page you will find even more options for entering precise searches.

Q: What do the “Refine your search” options on the left side of the search results mean?
A. The search refinements to the left side of the search results page are referred to as “facets” and they allow you to narrow your search results by content type, subject term, date, and other categories. Additionally, four standard search options appear at the top left side of the search results. They are:

  • Items with full text online: Most of the articles in SearchBox have some electronic material available online, but not every article is available online in a full-text format - some articles only have descriptive information and an abstract available. This option narrows search results to only those items for which online full-text is known to be available.
  • Limit to articles from scholarly publications, including peer-review: This option narrows the results from SearchBox to content from scholarly and peer-reviewed publications as designated in UlrichsWeb Global Serials Directory.
  • Exclude Newspaper Articles: SearchBox contains a vast quantity of newspaper material, with new content added daily. While this is very useful for those doing both historical and current affairs research, the sheer number of newspaper results can obscure excellent results from other types of publications. SearchBox is set by default to exclude newspaper articles from the search results, but, you only have to uncheck the box to add them back in.
  • Add results beyond your library’s collection: SearchBox can help users discover articles to which American University has no electronic access, either as a full-text document or as a descriptive record in a subject database. The default search in SearchBox excludes this material; for more comprehensive searches, you can enable this option and add those articles to your search results. (By definition, online full-text is not available from American University for these additional articles, so selecting the "Limit to articles with full text online" option excludes them from your search results even if this option is selected.)

Q. How do I save search results in SearchBox?
A. Mouse over the search result entry you would like to save and a click on the folder icon. This adds the entry to the “Saved Items” folder at the bottom of the search results screen; just click on the link to see your saved results. Please note that items you save are only available during your active SearchBox session and will be cleared once you leave the page.

Q. How do I share results from SearchBox?
A. SearchBox can be used to email, print, or export saved items to EndNote and other bibliographic utilities. Search results can be formatted according to a variety of standard formats, but, be sure to check those formats for current accuracy. Also, any search you conduct in SearchBox can be recreated, along with any refinements using the facets, simply by copying the URL from the browser address bar or clicking on the RSS feed button near the top right of the search results screen.

Q. It says full-text but when I click on it I can’t access the full-text article. Why?
A. Sometimes the link between SearchBox and the article is broken. If you run into this issue, please fill out the Report a Database Problem form and provide the article citation or the URL from the Find it @ AU Library window.

Q. Where do I go for help?
A. For assistance with SearchBox, please Ask a Librarian! You can find an AU’s IM reference service and other contact options at: http://www.american.edu/library/ask.




Portions of this FAQ were adapted from the University of Michigan Library’s (http://www.lib.umich.edu) ArticlesPlus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).