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Searching the catalogues

Free-text search
Browsing the indexes
Combining search types
When to use which search type

The following is a brief guide to the search facilities common to both catalogues. See also the Prints drawings & photographs help screen. For help on more complex search techniques see the Advanced search help screen.

There are two main methods for searching these catalogues: Please note that the 'Search' icon in the left hand sidebar links to the search engine for the British Library website. That search engine does not cover the India Office Select Materials Catalogues.

Free-text search

Type in the word(s) you want to search for in the relevant part of the search form. For example (on the All images search form):

Enter In box To find
Abbott Artist/Photographer items by any artist or photographer named Abbott
Clive Portrait for portraits of anyone named Clive - either forenames or surname
Mysore Place prints, drawings or photos of Mysore or any part of it.

You can combine terms in any parts of the form. These will narrow the search down. For example

  Place Mysore
  Start Year 1850
  End Year 1900

Will find images of Mysore from between 1850 and 1900

Terms can also be combined within a box. For example

  Place Mysore or Madras

Will find items from Mysore or from Madras

  Portrait Smith and Robert

Will find portraits of Robert Smith but not those of Christopher Smith

These searches will accept complex Boolean logic including 'and', 'or', 'not', truncation and parentheses within the boxes. For full details of how the logic works and how to enter complex searches see the Advanced search screen.

Browse and select from indexes

In many cases, it is possible to look through the indexes of names, subjects etc, to see what has been used (or how we have described something), and then to view those items directly. To use this facility, for example from Photographs:
  1. Select which index to use from the list in the left hand sidebar of the search form, for example topics.
  2. This displays the topics used in the index, showing those beginning with A, in alphabetical order.
  3. To choose another letter, select from the list at the top, for example R.
  4. Scroll down to the subject you want, for example ‘Railways’.
  5. Click on the topic to perform the search.

Combining search types

There is no facility to transfer terms from the indexes directly into the free-text search boxes, but it is of course possible to do this by copying and pasting. This will allow you to refine index searches with, say, date ranges or with other search terms, either free-text or from the indexes. In most cases this technique works well, but there are exceptions which can give misleading results. See note in the Advanced search screen for further details.

When to use which search type:

Each of the seach types has its pros and cons, and either may be the best approach for a particular query. Points to note are:

Browsing indexes
  • precise searching on a term that you know is used
  • ability to ‘browse’ the index terms to see what we’ve got
  • less easy to combine with other search terms (for example date ranges)
  • can only select one term at a time
  • danger of missing 'hits' which are in unindexed fields or Private Papers contents lists
Free-text searching
  • more general search, for example if you don’t know which ‘Abbott’ to search for
  • can easily combine terms as needed
  • can easily search on a 2nd or subsequent word
  • search unindexed fields, for example titles, descriptions or detailed contents lists
  • danger of missing ‘hits’ because of variations in spelling
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