Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A way to search individual MARC fields

I just found out something incredibly awesome from someone on the AUTOCAT listserv and thought I'd write a quick post about it before I forgot.

For a long while now, I've wished that there were a way to search for information in particular MARC fields. For instance, say I want to find something by a particular publisher. This isn't the best example, but maybe I'm looking for something published by "Harcourt." It's possible to do a Title search, Author search, Subject search, etc., but it's not possible to do a publisher search - except, it turns out that there sort of it, if you know what you're doing.

If you didn't know what you were doing and wanted to search for books published by Harcourt, you'd probably try a Keyword and "Words or Phrase" search for "Harcourt." At the time of this post, you would retrieve 2,111 results. Lots of them are published by Harcourt, but some of them aren't.

If you did know what you were doing (and you were using a Sirsi catalog, which is what DSL uses), you would still do a Keyword and "Words or Phrase" search. However, instead of searching for "Harcourt," you would try:

Harcourt {260}

You would retrieve 2,057 results - as I said, this isn't the best example, but even with this example you can see that the search became more specific. The results will more accurately reflect what you wanted to retrieve.

The numbers in the curly brackets are a field (I think Sirsi calls them tags in their documentation) value. In MARC, the 260 field includes publication and distribution information (it can also include a few other things, but, in our case, it usually doesn't). By using the curly brackets, you are limiting the search to a particular field.

As a cataloger, I find this to be nifty news, and I think I need to figure out how to get the news out to the other librarians at DSL. Unfortunately, as a cataloger I also understand that the number of people who will be able to make use of this search is very limited. Even when told about this search, most people still wouldn't be able to use it right off the bat. First, you'd have to know which field you wanted to search - I don't think many of the librarians at DSL besides myself know even the most basic MARC fields (but you can try looking them up here), since they tend to deal with the more people-friendly side of things. Our users certainly won't know the fields. Second, for some fields, it helps to know how cataloging rules work. For instance, the rules allow for publishers' names to get abbreviated. You might see "John Wiley & Sons" in our catalog, but you might also see "J. Wiley," or (I think) even just "Wiley."

Still, it's exciting news. I tried to do a genre (field 655) search using this method, and it didn't work out, but I'm going to see if I can figure out how to fix that. I'll probably have to talk to Tracy, who might have to talk to the Sirsi people...


  1. Wow, this is interesting, Melissa! I don't know MARC, but I could figure out which field I wanted to search on just looking at a record in Sirsi.

    I wonder if the reason your search didn't work for genre is the same reason a search won't work in the OPAC...maybe that field is not indexed?

  2. I did a bit of searching in the Sirsi Cataloging listserv archives, in the Sirsi Cataloging discussion forum, and in Google (strangely, Google has turned out to be my most successful resource so far, even though what I've gotten hasn't been great), and it looks like the indexing is the problem. That's something I'll definitely have to talk to Tracy about - it's also possible that this has been discussed more in the Sirsi Systems forums than in the Sirsi Cataloging forums, so she might be able to find out more than me.