Tips for how to search our online catalogues

We have two catalogues:

  • The online catalogue contains descriptions only. These are descriptions of our physical collections and our top-level digital collections
  • The digital collections contains both descriptions and viewable copies of our accessible digital collections. Searches in digital collections use the entire text content of the records

In both catalogues, searches use the descriptions for each record. This can lead to a massive number of results. So consider how things might have been described and follow these simple tips when searching.

Avoid using 'Transport' and 'London'

Virtually every record will mention 'Transport' and 'London' at least twice, so don't use those as search terms.

Use the asterisk symbol

Results are returned for exact matches of the word only. For example, searching for 'bus' will not return results for 'omnibus' or 'buses'.

To overcome this, use the asterisk symbol in any part of a word. For example, entering tunnel* will bring up tunnels, tunnelling, tunnelled, and tunnel. Entering *ground will bring up Underground, Overground, etc.

Adding an asterisk to the end of a word will also allow you to search for both the singular and plural versions of that term.

For example, if you type marriage* into the search engine, you'll find results for the words marriage and marriages. However, typing marri* will find results for marriage, marriages, married, and marries, because the asterisk is placed after the 'i'

Use Boolean searching to return more tailored results

represents Boolean And, meaning the search result must include both words. For example, 'roundel+platform' will show all records with both roundel and platform in the title or description fields. 

represents Boolean Not, meaning the search result must exclude the second word. For example, platform-roundel will show all records that mention platform apart from those that also mention roundel. 

| represents Boolean Or, meaning that the search result may include either word. For example, 'roundel|design' will show all records with the word roundel as well as all records with design in the title or description fields.

Try using synonyms

If you're not getting the results you expected, try searching using synonyms of your original search terms.

Search the full version of a name and the acronym

Search for both British Broadcasting Company and BBC, for example.

Do an additional search

When using the digital collections catalogue, search results don't consistently highlight where your search term was found within a document. If you've opened a specific document, you should do an additional search within it.

Not every piece of paper is catalogued

We just don't have the time to describe the contents of every single piece of paper in the physical collections. When cataloguing a file of letters, for example, we'll include a description that highlights some key topics within the file, but this won't cover all of them.

So, if you can't find much that matches your exact search term, see if there are other files that were created by a relevant department during the right period and consider requesting to see that file. Sometimes you find things by chance rather than design!