Basic Searching in Design: Design Research Guide

Librarian: Karen DeWitt

The Search Box on the Libraries' Homepage

On the main library homepage there’s a big red search box. They’ve packed a lot of things into this box, so I wanted to try to clarify what all it does.

There are four tabs; All, Articles, Books and Media, and Website.

  • All

    Searches all the databases behind all the tabs all together, and presents a few results from each database on one results page.

  • Articles

    Searches Summon, which is a database that combines our online catalog and all our article databases in one. It has some added functions in that it allows you to save records and export them to your Refworks or other citation management account. Unfortunately, this is not always the best way to search for design journal articles; the sources tend to be newspapers or not design-related, and often the links that should take you to full-text articles do not work. If you can get what you need from this, great. If not, try some subject specific databases. If you go to the Design Library homepage, there are links on the left for each subject.

  • Books and Media

    Searches our online catalog as well as others. There are three buttons under the box; the first (and the default) is NC State only, which searches our online catalog. The second button is Triangle Research Libraries, which searches a database that combines the catalogs of NCSU, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Duke University. You can have things from UNC or Duke delivered quite easily to the Design Library. The third button is UNC System Libraries and Beyond, which searches a database that includes the online catalogs of all the libraries of the UNC system as well as many libraries outside of the system. Again, you can request things easily from this database.

  • Website

    Searches the NCSU Libraries website; you should use this for finding out about library services or policies.

Searching for Books

You can get to the catalog on the Libraries' home page or through the Find page. The Libraries' online catalog is constantly changing; it is frequently updated and this may change how the searching works or where you get to a particular search. If you have questions or problems, please come ask at the Design Library, or email me.

Keyword Search

Keyword searching is the default searching for the catalog; this is what you will be doing in the standard search box on the main catalog page, or, in the bottom search boxes on the advanced catalog page. Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Type in the most distinctive word.

    A keyword search is probably the most useful search if you are not sure exactly what you want. In a keyword search, you simply type in the most distinctive word that describes what you want to look for.

    For example, if you are looking for a book about Frank Lloyd Wright's house Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, you do not need to type in all of those words. You can simply type in "Taliesin" as the most distinctive word, and you should find works that describe that house. You may also get books about Taliesin East, but there should be a relatively small number of books, since you typed in a fairly distinctive word. Or you could simply type in "Taliesin West."

  • If you don't find anything with the most distinctive word you can think of, then you may need to try a more general word.

    For example, if you type in "Taliesin," and don't find anything, then try typing in "Frank Lloyd Wright."

    If you try a keyword search and you find too many things, you can narrow your search by adding terms. For example, you can type in "Wright and Taliesin" or just "Wright Taliesin." You may need to try several different searches to find exactly what you need.

  • Generally, the more terms you use in a single search, the narrower and more specific your search will be.

    Think of the search terms as describing your ideal result. For example, if you were looking to buy a car, the more words you use to describe it, the more specific the car is that you are talking about. If you say, " I want a car" that's very general; any car would fit that description, but a truck wouldn't. If you say, "I want a 4-door car with a sunroof and leather seats," that's more specific; it could still be any brand of car, but you've narrowed it down with the type of car and the accessories. If you say, "I want a red Toyota Avalon with a sunroof and leather seats," then you have a very narrow and specific search. So, the more terms you use to describe what you want and the more specific those terms are, the narrower and more specific your search becomes. So when you search the online catalog, try to think of both narrow and broad terms, and do several searches to find what works best.

  • Don't think that because you didn't find anything on the first try that there isn't anything there.

    If you do a search and get no results, you will need to do another, more general search. There are over 3 million items in the NCSU libraries; unless you are looking for something extremely obscure, we probably have something you can use. If you search and get thousands and thousands of results, don't try to wade through them all; go back and do a narrower and more specific search.

  • Try to think of different terms to describe what you're looking for if you don't find what you want.

    Also remember that the word you think of to search with may not be the word that the author of the book thought of, or the word the person who wrote the catalog entry thought of. A good example of this is material relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act. You might need to use the terms "ADA" or "disabilities" or "handicapped" or "accessibility" or "universal design" or "barrier-free design" or any of a number of other terms. Especially with any hot topic or any controversial topic, the words that people use to describe it can change over time.

If you're interested in learning more, go to Advanced Searching.

Other Keyword Searches

There are additional keyword searches; Keyword in Title, Keyword in Author, Keyword in Subject Heading, and ISSN/ISBN

  • Keyword in Author

    Keyword in Author allows you to search authors by keywords, rather than the exact name. You can either type in a name, such as "Vincent Scully" or search for a couple of names such as "Venturi and Scott Brown." You can also just type in one name, such as "Venturi," but unless the name is very distinctive, it will return a large number of results. If your author's name is Smith, for example, you'll probably want to do a general keyword search and add in some title words as well.

  • Keyword in Title

    Keyword in Title will search for words in any order but only within the title field.

  • Keyword in Subject

    Keyword in Subject is a more general search. It searches for subject words in any order. If you're not sure of the exact subject heading you want, this is a better search for you.

Other search options

You can also do a search for call number, Government Documents number, and so on.

Finding the book

  • Be sure you check the location, the call number, and the availability.

    Once you have found a record in the catalog for a book you want, then you need to look closely at the holdings: the location, the call number and the availability. Availability will tell you whether a book is checked out or not. That's very important; there is nothing more frustrating than trying to find a book on the shelf that is actually checked out. Also be sure of the location, the online catalog contains books at the D. H. Hill Library, the James B. Hunt Jr. Library, the Natural Resources Library, the Veterinary Medical Library as well as the Design Library. Be sure the item you're looking for is actually in the library you're in.

  • All LC call numbers start with one or two letters. Once you've found the right letter, then within that letter they're in numerical order.

    The LC call number system isn't that difficult to use, but it can be confusing at first. All LC call numbers start with one or two letters, and so everything is alphabetically arranged by those first couple of letters; A before B, N before NA, then NB, then NC, and so on through the alphabet.Once you've found the right letter, then within that letter you need to find the correct number. So if the call number of the book you're looking for starts out NA737, you first look for NA, and then the NA700s, and so on. The most common mistake people make is not to look for the numbers sequentially. Often, someone looking for NA737 will go into the stacks and find NA7300 and search for their book in that area, when in fact, within any given letter, the books are in number order, so that after NA700 comes NA800, NA900, NA1000, NA2000, NA3000 and so on - NA700 will be a long way before NA7000. As always, ask the library staff if you have problems.

Books Outside of NC State

Suppose you can't find books on the subject you want at the NCSU Libraries. Don't despair. There are hundreds of thousands of libraries in the world, and one of them probably has a book you could use. As a student, you can ask to borrow almost any book from almost anywhere. Also remember you might want to look for a journal article.

  • TRLN

    NCSU is part of the TRLN (Triangle Research Libraries Consortium). What this means for you is that you can borrow books from the other research libraries in the Triangle (UNC, Duke, and NC Central) free of charge. To search for things at those libraries, go to Search TRLN :

    Once you've found something you want, click on the title for that item, and in the full record, there should be a link that says "Request This Title" to request to have it sent to you, or you can also go to those other libraries and pick it up. Generally, if you request to have something delivered to you, it should arrive at the Design Library within a day or two

  • World Cat

    If you can't find anything on your topic at NCSU, Duke, UNC, or NCCU, you may want to look in WorldCat. WorldCat is a combined online catalog for most of the libraries in the US, and has over 95 million records. You can look in WorldCat and find books about your topic, and then go to the Tripsaver/Interlibrary Loan page on NCSU Libraries' website, and request those books be sent to you, free of charge.


Getting Things from Other Libraries

  • Tripsaver

    Once you've found descriptions of what you need in the various databases you've searched, you'll need to get it. The best way is to send in a request through the Libraries' Tripsaver service.

    Tripsaver Home

  • TRLN

    You can also go to the other members of TRLN (the Triangle Research Libraries Network): Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina Central University, and borrow books directly from them. See this website for details:

  • Duke and UNC Art Libraries

    Duke and UNC both have excellent art libraries. Go to their websites to get directions or hours: The Lilly Library at Duke collects fine arts, philosophy, film, video, and performing arts. The Sloane Art Library at UNC collects art from prehistoric times to the present.

  • The Art Reference Library at the NC Museum of Art

    You can also use the Art Reference Library at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The Library's emphasis is on Western European and American art, in support of the Museum's primary collections. It also maintains an extensive Artists File on artists represented in the collection. The library is open to the public 10am to 4pm Wednesday through Friday. None of their materials circulate; you must use their books within the library. It's also advisable to call in advance: 919.839-6262, ext. 2136 or 2137.