Searching the Updated Catalog

By now you have probably discovered that Mercer County Library System has a updated library catalog in place. Overall, most of you have found the updated catalog to be fairly easy to navigate, but we have had a few questions about how it works and what to expect when searching for an item in the system, so here is a little primer on getting started with the updated catalog.

The first change most people notice is there is only one search box and no link to a browse or advanced search. The reason for this has to do with the technology behind the search. Traditional library searches require you to enter a search term, pick either keyword or browse and then pick the target index (title, author, or subject) to search. This type of search requires the user to do a lot of the thinking for the search engine and can lead to the need to redo a search several times before hitting the right combination of terms and targets. By contrast, the updated catalog uses the same type of searching that is used by Google or, searching based on Fuzzy Logic. In fuzzy logic searches, the search engine looks at all the available data and ranks the information in a range, so you don’t have to restrict your search to just one index or have an exact spelling to the search terms. With the updated catalog, if you type in a few keywords in the search box, the catalog not only automatically searches the author, title, and subject indices, but it also searches the genre, summary, contents and other information that is indexed by the library. The results are ranked so that any item which has the search terms in the author or title index will be ranked highest in the scale and other results show up after those. This preserves the ability to search by a title or author and get those results near the top of the list.

A few examples might explain this better. If I want to look for the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I can type in help stockett or the help and the book I want shows up as six of the first seven items in the results list. I can tell what version each listing is by the icon to the right of the title or by the call number, both of which would indicate large print (LP) or that the item is an audiobook, electronic book, or a paper book. Now is a good time to note that words like the, a, and, or and not are all indexed so if they show up in the title, use them in the search. Traditional library catalogs consider these stop words and won’t look for them in a title.

Another example is searching for world war two. Searching the old catalog for these keywords brings up 182 items, but the updated catalog returns 506. The key here is to note that you want to spell out any numbers. Library indexing usually does spell out numbers so you get more results spelling out two instead of using 2 or II. In this search, we can also explore the advanced searching features, which you will now apply after you do a search. Note the column of information on the right hand side of the screen. These are called facets and are entry points into the library’s database. In our example, if I just want books about World War Two, I can click on books and narrow my search down to 315 items. I can narrow further by material intended for an adult reader or a child (juvenile) or young adult. Other facets include language, author, publication date and traditional subject headings.

A final search example is the word horcruxes. Harry Potter fans know about these, but you don’t have to like science fiction or have a kid to appreciate this aspect of the updated catalog. In a traditional catalog, you won’t get any results if you search for horcruxes, but you will find them in the updated catalog. The reason for this is the enhanced content that is included for each item in the system. You’ll notice that almost all of the books now include reviews, summaries and information about the author. Some also include a table of contents and sample chapters. All of this information is also indexed by the system, so if you remember you read a book about horcruxes but just can’t remember the title, you can do a search for it and find it (Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, by the way).

We have added a few features that we hope will make your searching easier or give you greater access to the materials available at MCLS. For those that have been asking for them, the award winners and bestsellers lists are back and are improved to give you a complete picture. The lists now include all of the award winners for a particular award, regardless of whether MCLS owns a copy. There is even a recommend button in case you would like to suggest that we purchase an item (or, you can use our suggestion for purchase form, a link to which is on the green bar at the top of the catalog). The new item lists are back as well, with improvements. Each list is arranged by publication date, so you will get the items published this year. If you take a look at the Books, New in 2011 list, you can see how the facets to the right improve the usefulness of the lists. In particular, pay attention to the Subject facet and you will see you can narrow the results by a rather lengthy list of choices. The most common appear at the top, so it is easy to access just mystery novels or historical fiction. But, if you expand the list, you can narrow down to cookbooks, rabbit books for kids, or paranormal romance novels to name a few.

Finally, there is a drop-down box underneath the search box in case you want to do a specific media search, for example if you want to find a CD that has a particular song on it or want to look for just DVDs. Let’s say you are interested in finding out what we have in the Hindi DVD collection. Pick DVDs from the drop-down and search for Hindi to get a list. This is a good time to mention another tip for searching the catalog, particularly if you are looking for items that are in a specific language. Search for the language (Spanish, Polish, Hebrew, Hindi, etc.) and then use the language facet to narrow by that language. This works for all the searches in the drop-down box, even the Everything search, so you should be able to get a list of DVDs, books, etc. in a particular language in two clicks.

Next month, we’ll talk about the My Account section and preview some features that should be coming soon as we work on improving that area of the catalog.


  1. To those In Charge: The new Mercer County Library search and account system is a total disaster, so bad it should be dumped immediately. Please go back to the old system while you let your gurus waste tax-payer money tinkering to "fix" something that was never broken to start with.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Overall, response to the catalog update has been fairly positive with many patrons commenting that the system is intuitive and easier to navigate the search results since it mimics Google and other internet search engines. The catalog is an upgrade that is part of our standard service package with our software vendor. While we have some control over how the site looks, we only have limited control over how the search and account features function. Our vendor, however, is receptive to suggestions and often makes changes based on our input. We would gladly address any specific concerns you may have with the catalog upgrade if you would e-mail us at support at mcl dot com. Specific comments allow us to pass along constructive information to the vendor to help us improve the product we offer our patrons.

  3. even when logged into my account, I have to log in again & again each time I put a book on hold....why?

  4. The update to our catalog is an update to the search engine only, the update to the My Account section will be added later this year. Until then, the catalog is running a separate system to handle the accounts and holds, so you end up logging in for each hold because the search engine can't remember the login. Once the My Account section is upgraded, this won't be a problem. Basically, we were running a catalog that is being discontinued and needed to move to the upgraded version now and our software vendor did not want to deliver a system without a My Account feature so we are using two systems as a temporary fix.

  5. MCL is a fantastic asset to Mercer County, I can't say enough good things about the staff, facilities, and materials. But this upgrade is a big disappointment, it drops useful features and adds improvements that don't work well at all.

    The "fuzzy logic" feature does not work as advertised, it is being portrayed as working just like Google or Amazon, but trust me, the new MCL system is not as forgiving as Amazon or Google for partial titles, author names, or slight mis-spellings.

    Even more inexplicable, the new system will eliminate the Browse feature that we used to have on the old system, thereby leaving no way to do an alphabetic search anymore. This makes absolutely no sense to me, libraries have been successfully using this search principal for over 100 years (i.e. Dewey Decimal card catalogs).

    Head Librarian: PLEASE leave in the old browse feature from the last version of your on line catalog. It's still there (although hard to find) so there seems no reason to take it away. At least this way, users would still have the option to perform alphabetic searches.

  6. We are sorry you are disappointed by the update to the catalog.

    The fuzzy logic search does indeed forgive for misspellings and partial titles. For example, if you search both the catalog and Amazon for "how the west," you get the same results. As for misspellings, it won't pick up drastic variations but being off by a few letters doesn't matter in this version of the catalog, which is an improvement over the previous catalog. The reason for the improvement is the way the update now uses trigram searching, which means it is looking for strings of letters by matching sets of three letters in the search terms. In the example of The Help, the search engine is looking for the heh ehl hel and elp in a sequence, rating the results that have the highest matches to those sets at the top. This sequencing also explains why the catalog does not have a browse feature, as it is pretty much not needed if you type in the whole title or author's name. Longer titles will also show up with just the first few words. Again, keep in mind to include the articles and other common stop words, like and or not.

    As for returning a browse search to the catalog, this feature is not offered in the current version of the software from our vendor so there is nothing for us to add or turn on. the limited browse search that we do have access to for the next few months is there as a solution to a problem we had with some on order items that were not allowing us to place holds. This browse search is not part of the current or previous catalog edition, but is actually a different product that is also scheduled to be discontinued by our software vendor. The browse search is a feature that most library software vendors are eliminating as it becomes redundant with the improved searching abilities of the newer catalog products they are offering to libraries.

  7. I understand that the fuzzy logic search has been introduced with the intention of helping the users, however, I am not sure if taking out the advanced search altogether is a great idea.

    The fuzzy logic search, while being helpful in some cases, suffers from the problem of bringing up too many irrelevant results. This is because no search is advanced enough (yet) to understand what the user wants without being told explicitly. This is where advanced search with it's elementized search fields is helpful . The quality of the result set produced by the advanced search is much superior to that produced by the fuzzy search.

    You mention that the fuzzy search is similar to what Google and Amazon provides. While this is true, you omit the very important fact that both of these sites also provide the advanced search in ADDITION to the fuzzy search. Below are the links to the advanced search pages for each of these sites:

    The reason why both these companies (and every other major search engine) provide both flavors is because they realize that the 'quality' of the search result is as important as the 'ease' of searching, and they cater to both.

    It is sad to see that an academic institution like a library is attempting at 'dumbing down' its resources. I believe that the residents of Mercer county are capable of filling in a few fields and performing an advanced search when they know exactly what they are looking for, instead of having to be drowned with a flood of irrelevant results as is currently happening with the fuzzy search.

    I am not requesting to do away with the fuzzy search. I am sure it has a lot of value. All I am saying is that like the companies you site as examples in your blog above, we need to have both.

  8. Thank you for taking the time to comment. We do agree that Mercer residents are very capable of entering in a few keywords in different fields for an advanced search. In this case, we simply don't have an option as the advanced search is not a feature offered in this version of the software provided by our vendor. The main reason for this is, unlike the results list you get in Google or Amazon, the catalog provides a means to reduce the results using an extensive set of facets. Yes, Amazon lets you reduce by a few aspects, but not with the same variety. The facets in our catalog are actually the very same fields that used to be available on our Advanced Search in the older version of the catalog.

    The goal is to give patrons a unified search box for those that want a simple search, while still providing a way to limit results for larger searches. Essentially, the entire search is an advanced search done backward. While some people are rather adept at using an advanced search, most prefer a simple search that can be guided once they have a set of results. By doing the advanced search in a reverse manner, it is easier to pick from choices instead of guessing at what might be available in the database's index for a particular field. The problem with most advanced searches is, they tend to be too picky and this can lead to the user needing to redo a search several times to hit the correct combination of phrases in the correct fields for the search engine to provide relevant results. With a reverse search, the patron is presented with the keywords that do appear in the index and can judge how to reduce the results without the frustration of having to redo a search several times. By adding and subtracting facets, the patron can manipulate the results to their liking without the guesswork.

  9. Questions:
    1. How do you go to "Browse Search" page?
    2. How do you sort the list by ascending publication year, instead of the Reverse Pub Year? How do you sort by Title?

  10. the set goal is great - but the hired programmer(s) do not have skill of GOOGLE to implement it -
    they might and can spell the word FUZZY but they can NOT and are NOT capable to program or to define the algorithm of fuzzy search - Wasting tax money for a bunch of incompetent programmers

  11. I have been using the online catalog ordering system from Mercer County Libary for several years now and your newest updated catalog system needs are great deal of improvement. Your Fuzzy Logic is FUZZY. This new system is not user friendly.

  12. As mentioned in previous comments, our catalog is part of package we get from our library software vendor and is not something programmed by our staff. As such, the upgrade was part of our standard service and did not cost any extra taxpayer money to design or install. Please also note that we recently completed the rest of the upgrade and many of the features that we were waiting to see return have indeed returned to the catalog.

  13. In the past we were able to view books or books on CD that were recently added or new to the collection. This does not seem possible anymore. How can I search for the most recent library additions?


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