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How To Search the Library Collections

A guide to basic research skills, and how to access the Library Collections at CityU

Research Basics

Find Articles, E-Books, Videos, and More

The CityU Library and Learning Resource Center’s collection is 98% online! You need your username and password to log in to the library’s online resources.

From the search box on our library’s home page, you can search multiple online databases, e-books, and other resources. Use the many limiters, such as full-text, content type, publication date, subject area, and more to find what you need.

Need help getting started?

If you have been searching for information for 15-20 minutes, and you have not had success, contact us through Ask a Librarian.

Basic Search Tips

Choosing a Topic 

Okay, so you know you want to start searching the library, but how do you decide which keywords to use? What if you don't have a clear idea of your topic yet?

It's okay if you don't have a clear understanding of your topic when you first start searching. The below video explains how you can use research to help you choose your topic, and to help you further explore the research surrounding an area of study. Keep in mind that research involves a lot of reading and flexibility. So, it is okay if your topic adapts as you learn more about a particular subject. 

The following tabs will overview some specifics and some neat tips on searching within the library.

If you want more information on how to approach research from a place of inquiry, we recommend taking a look at the following guide:

Start Your Search with Keywords

Start with a topic and determine the topic’s major concepts. These concepts are your keywords, which are very important in getting relevant results.

Enter your keywords into the search box on our home page.

Topic = Keyword 1 + Keyword 2 + Keyword 3

Example: What affects the price of oil? (topic) = Oil (keyword) + supply and demand (keywords) + OPEC (keyword)

Use quotation marks

Put names and phrases in quotation marks in order to search for those words side-by-side (phrase searching).

For example: “Erik Erikson” or “psychosocial development theory.” Parentheses also work for this purpose in many databases: eg. (Erik Erikson)

Use Boolean operators: AND/ OR/ NOT

The three basic boolean operators are: ANDOR, and NOT. These are logic commands that can be used in almost every search engine, database, or online catalogue. They connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results. Boolean operators help to focus your search, connecting various pieces of information so that you can find exactly what you are looking for. 


ANDa Venn diagram of pink and blue overlapping circles. The word "AND" is written where the circles overlap.

Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records

Example: education AND leadership



OR a Venn diagram of two blue circles. Above the circles is written the word "OR"                  

Use OR in a search to:        

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records

Example 1: leadership OR management

Example 2: education AND (leadership OR management)

Using OR can result in a very large set of results! OR will bring more search results than AND. A good way to remember this is "OR brings you MORE!"


NOTa Venn diagram with one pink circle, and one black, scribbled out circle. The word "NOT" is written on the black circle.

Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms

Example: education NOT elementary



Search order matters!

Be aware of the logical order in which words are connected when using Boolean operators: 

  • Databases usually recognize AND as the primary operator, and will connect concepts with AND together first.
  • You can use parentheses to enclose the words you want connected -- just like in algebra!

Example: (education AND leadership) NOT elementary


Adapted from MIT LibrariesCC-BY-NC.

Use limits (full text, publication date) to focus your search 

Using multiple limits will help you narrow your search.

NOTE: If you get no results or only a few results, use fewer keywords and fewer limiters. The more keywords you put into your search, the fewer results you will get, and the fewer keywords you put into your search, the more results you will get.

City U library catalog with search limits



Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings. To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol (*) at the end. The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.

  • Examples:
    • child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
    • genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically

Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #


Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word. This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.

  • Examples:
    • wom!n = woman, women
    • counse?ing = counseling, counselling
Adapted from MIT Libraries CC-BY-NC: 


Google is Great, But Be VERY Selective about Online Sources

Librarians love online searching, because there are open-access studies, reports, data and other materials available from research groups and universities. However, you need to be very selective about what you use when you search online. Make sure the sources you find online meet a high standard for quality and academic writing before citing them in your assignments.

Look for content or documents that clearly have authors or are published by experts or organizations that share information about their purpose. Always read the “About Us” section. Examples of institutions producing high-quality reports/research:

Look for content or documents that cite sources and offer in-depth analysis of an issue. For example:

Use a variety of criteria to determine credibility and relevance. For more information, see our Research Guide: