Session 2 – Smart Search

The widespread use of Web search engines has made keyword queries the most popular model for search. BiblioCommons Keyword smart search has been designed to return relevant results for a wide range of scenarios most common to public library catalogues.

For these next few search tasks, we’d encourage you to open two browser windows, one with your previous OPAC the other with BiblioCommons, and to compare the results you are getting in each.

Smart search background information

2.0 Basic Keyword Search – Known Titles/Authors

Known titles and authors are the most common type of search in most libraries’ OPACs. And while these should, in theory, be relatively easy to get right, even these have often proven problematic for our users with traditional OPAC search technologies.

Task: Try some of the queries below in both BiblioCommons and your previous catalogue and compare result sets (leaving both catalogues defaulted to Keyword).

  • Keyword – Twilight
  • Keyword – 24
  • Keywords – Mamma Mia!
  • Keywords – God is not great

Tip: You can use quotation marks around a phrase for an exact match, but this usually isn’t necessary for titles you already know.

Task:  Now try some of the various versions of the author name below in both catalogs. Again leave both defaulted to Keyword.

  • Keywords – William Gibson
  • Keywords – W Gibson
  • Keywords – W. Gibson
  • Keywords – Gibson, William

Go Further: Search by ISBN or Call number.

Another way to find known items is by ISBN or Call number. You can also use the default Keyword setting of the smart search box to query by these fields.

Hint: For a known call number search by either:

  • Inserting call number in quotation marks
  • Removing any spaces

2.1 Smart Search – Searching for Format, Language and Audience

Smart search can recognize combinations of format, language and audience – and responds by applying the appropriate facets.  And there is a thesaurus working in the back-end, which allows varying words to be recognized (e.g. dvd, dvds, movie, movies).

Task: Compare how your new and old catalogues respond to format, language and audience searches.

  • Keyword – dvd
  • Keywords – new kids english movies
  • Keywords – french books


  • Adding additional words that are not format, language or audience to your search will make the search a keyword search (e.g. a search for kids movies dogs will be a keyword search).
  • There is always the option to revert back to a regular keyword search (there is a link at the top of your search results).  This could be useful if you did a search for teen books with the intent to find readers’ advisory type books.

2.2 Smart Search – Interpreting Spelling Errors with the “Did you mean” Function

Task: Compare how your new and old catalogues respond to spelling errors.

Try entering these spelling errors in both BiblioCommons and your previous catalogue, or think up some of your own.

  • Keywords – Wolt Dizny
  • Keyword – Ironman (as one word)
  • Keyword – Pirate of the Caribean

Again, if you find curious cases where BiblioCommons returns zero results or non-intuitive Did you mean responses, please share these in the feedback box and help smart search get smarter!

2.3 Multi-field Searching

Years of using Google have conditioned users to use keywords that reflect the essence of whatever it is they’re looking for. On Google, for instance, if someone were looking for information on a DVD edition of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, they might type something like: “sleeping beauty dvd.” In fact, one of the most common search terms used by the general public is “DVD”. Our users don’t think in terms of separating keywords or text strings from fixed fields like format or title searches.

Task: Compare multi-field Smart Searches.

Try some of these keyword search strings in your previous OPAC and BiblioCommons and compare the result sets:

  • Keywords – Beethoven CD
  • Keywords – Classical music CD

Note that these searches combine disparate data fields. Each string contains both keywords and a format.  Most OPACs have treated keyword searches as text searches only. BiblioCommons Smart Search recognizes these formats for what they are and handles them appropriately.

2.4 Stop Word Smarts

Stop words are small and frequently occurring words such as “the”, “in”, “of”, or “it” that are often ignored by search algorithms.

Task: Compare the use of stop words in smart searches.

Try some of these keyword search strings and compare results in your previous OPAC and BiblioCommons:

  • Keywords – The Piano
  • Keywords – Piano
  • Keywords – The It Girl

If a stop word is present in a query, smart search always attempts to match the exact string to a title first, and then removes the stop word to find additional results. Traditional search often removes stop-words before matching, which can mean that the desired result is ignored or buried.

2.5 Smart Stemming

Stemming refers to the ways in which a search algorithm handles inflected forms of words. If, for example, a user searches for penguins, it goes without saying that the OPAC should return results for “penguin” as well. But other use cases aren’t quite so simple. For instance, if someone searches for organ, should a search algorithm also return results for organs? What about organic? Organization?

A good stemming algorithm will make that decision in an intelligent way—a way that respects the meaning of the original search term. BiblioCommons does this. For example, stemming is never used to match authors. An author search for Davie will never match Robertson Davies!

Task: Compare search results between different stemmed terms

Enter the following terms into the BiblioCommons Keyword search.

  • Keyword – Climb
  • Keyword – Climbing
  • Keyword – Climber

Searching for “Climb” and then “Climbing” also produces similar result sets, but “Climber” returns something entirely different. This is because the BiblioCommons stemming algorithm judges “climber” to have a meaning distinct from either of those other two forms of “climb.”

Since the stemming algorithm relies on a thesaurus to do its magic, there are instances in which it behaves unpredictably! If you discover some of these, remember to let BiblioCommons know, using the feedback form. Our smart search is under continuous development.

Smart stemming background information

Go Further: Test tricky searches on BiblioCommons.

Try using BiblioCommons Smart Search to execute some searches you’ve found tricky in other OPACs. If you find searches that don’t perform well on BiblioCommons, please use the Feedback form at the bottom of the page to send us a note, as we are always looking for difficult searches to help refine our algorithm. (Remember, the feedback form only displays when you are logged in!)