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Using the library: Search Tips


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Searching for research material can at times be a time-consuming and frustrating task. The book you want isn’t on the shelf or the article you found is unavailable. On the other hand, you may search for a topic and be overwhelmed by the number of results. Below are some suggestions on how to broaden or refine your searches. This section also provides support on how to search databases and access electronic material off-site.

Using Explore - Library Catalogue

UCL SSEES students and staff have access to a wide range of books, journals, newspapers, archives and audio-visual materials. We also have many electronic resources, such as full-text articles, databases and e-books. Whether you are looking for materials on a broad subject, or are looking for a specific item, you can begin your search via UCL Explore. Explore is UCL's library catalogue which allows you to search for books, articles, journals, archival material, and much more held by UCL. For a quick overview of Explore, see What is Explore?

To refine your search in Explore, we suggest you choose from the following sources in the dropdown box next to In Resource:

  • All Resources: This option will search the entire library catalogue, special collections and millions of electronic journals.
  • Library Catalogue: The best option to choose if you are searching for a printed or electronic book or a journal article.
  • Journal Articles: Chose this option if you are searching for full-text articles published in electronic journals.
  • Digital Collections: This will select documents that have been digitised by UCL Library Services.
  • UCL Discovery: This is UCL's open access publications repository that holds theses and publications published by UCL staff.
  • UCL Exam Papers: UCL has electronic copies of past exam papers for students to access.
  • UCL Archives: Searches archive material in UCL's Special Collections and UCL SSEES Library's archives.
  • UCL Journals: This option will select journals to which UCL Library provides print or electronic access.

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How do I search?

If you are looking for a specific resource, select a few keywords, type them into the search box, and click “Search”. Good keywords include:

  •  The author’s surname;
  • Important words from the title, especially less common ones.

Bad keywords include:

  • Very common words, such as “politics”, “history” or “economics”.

For example, if you were looking for the book Party system formation in Kazakhstan by Rico Isaacs, published in 2011, you could enter the keywords “formation Kazakhstan isaacs 2011”.

If you are interested in a broader range of resources, then more general keywords would be appropriate. For example, if you wanted to find books about Russian politics, you could enter the keywords “Russian politics”. You could also try searching for “Russia politics” or “Russia political”, as changing your search terms will bring back different results. When searching for material, it is important to consider your keywords carefully in order to refine your search. For more information about ways to broaden or narrow your search results, please consult the Explore help pages.

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Where are the items listed in my results?

Each result in Explore has a set of tabs underneath the title. If it is a physical item, there will be a tab that says “Locations”. Click on that tab to see which UCL library has the item.

A tab that says “View Online” means that it is an electronic resource. If you click on the tab, it will take you directly to that resource.

A tab that says “View [2] versions” means that we have multiple versions of the same text. These may be different editions, or we may have electronic and print versions. Click on the tab, and then select the version you want.

Image of Results tab on Explore

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Why can't I find what I am looking for?

There are several reasons why you might not find what you’re looking for in Explore:

  • Have you spelled your search terms correctly? Are you using British spelling to search for a book published in the United States (colour instead of color, for example)? Or perhaps you are using a different transilteration of a foreign name?
  • Are there too many results? Try filtering them using the links in the left-hand toolbar: you can filter by resource type and library site, for example.
  • Are you looking for an article? Some journals are not available electronically, so if you are searching for a specific article, try searching for the journal title instead.
  • Are you looking for older material? A small percentage of our pre-1989 books have not yet been added to the electronic catalogue. These are mainly Cyrillic books. You can search for pre-1989 books in the card catalogue, which is located on the Second Floor of the Library.

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Searching Databases

Databases are a useful alternative to Explore if you are searching on a specific subject. UCL subscribes to hundreds of databases that students and staff can access on and off-site. Databases allow for a more focused search and provide access to:

  • material published on a particular subject
  • journal articles, and in some instances, book chapters
  • an abstract that summarises the main themes of the article
  • information on who else has cited the article, allowing you to measure the impact of the article
  • new publications in your field
  • bibliographic details

Every database has different search functions that work in slightly different ways. It is a good idea to spend some time thinking about your keywords. For example if you are studying Russia there are a number of different search terms you could use, such as: Russia, Russian Federation, Imperial Russia, Soviet Union, USSR, Union of Soviet Socialst Republics, etc. Using different keywords will give you different results.

For help finding and searching databases, UCL has created Database FAQs.

Attached are some general tips on how to search using Boolean Operators.

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Where else could I look?

There are a number of places to start searching for research materials, from UCL’s own information sources to Google and Google Scholar. If you start your search via Google or Google Scholar, you may find that you are asked to pay for access or to log in via your institution. It is likely that UCL has access to these resources. Rather than having to log in to each resource individually, it is possible to log in to the UCL systems before you start your search. You will then be able to access anything you find that UCL has access to. To do so:

  • Log in using your UCL username and password;
  • Proceed to Google or Google Scholar and search normally.

If you cannot login through UCL's single sign-on page, then look to log in on the database. Many times the link may be called Shibboleth. Locate the institutional log in and choose UCL and then sign in with your username and password. Where your UCL login grants access, you will see a link to the right of the result that says “SFX@UCL”.

It is worth noting that UCL holds many resources that will not appear via Google or Google Scholar, such as the content of printed books and journals, as well as the contents of databases. For information on using UCL’s in-house systems to locate such materials, please consult the “How do I find?” pages.

You can also search the catalogues of the British Library and other national and university libraries using COPAC. Materials held at other institutions may be available to UCL staff and students directly or via inter-library loan; please consult a member of library staff for further advice.

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Where can I get more help?

You can ask any member of library staff for help, and we will be happy to provide it. During staffed hours there is always be a member of staff on duty at the Help Desk and often a second member of staff in the Ground Floor office. You are also welcome to come into the staff offices on the First and Second Floors of the Library, or feel free to approach any one of us who is walking around in the library.

Alternatively, you can email us at

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Google Scholar

UCL has activated SFX links in Google Scholar. If you are using a UCL computer, you should see these links automatically. If you are outside the UCL network and want to display UCL SFX links, you will need to set UCL in 'Library Links' within the Google Settings menu located at the top of the page.