Introduction to the what, now? Even if the name is unfamiliar, if you’ve found journal articles or other sources using the online databases offered through UAlbany libraries, you may already have used the CSA Database Interface. (Fun fact: CSA stands for Cambridge Scientific Abstracts.) Several of the online databases most relevant to the Downtown Campus community use this interface: CSA Worldwide Political Abstracts, National Criminal Justice Reference Service, LISA [Library and Information Science Abstracts], PAIS International [Public Affairs Information Service], and Social Services Abstracts.) Knowing how use the CSA Interface’s advanced search techniques will greatly increase your success at finding resources that match your research interests.
Searching with the CSA Interface
When you choose one of the databases listed above from the UAlbany libraries’ Databases and Indexes page
you are presented with a screen that looks like the one above. (When you’re not already logged-in to a library computer you’ll be asked for your UAlbany ID and password.)
For now, let’s focus on the series of nine empty boxes and discover how to talk to the database. (The picture above shows the page for the LISA database, but these techniques apply to any using the CSA Interface.) Notice that in each row of boxes there’s an “or��? between them. When you enter terms into these boxes, the computer will search the database for items that contain any or all of the words you enter. One useful way to think about this is to put synonyms or like terms in the boxes with “or��? between them. If you’re doing research on 20th and 21st century Russia, for example, you might put “Russia��? into one box, and “USSR��? into the adjacent one. That way, you’ll get back a more robust result list encompassing articles which use either term. The default setting is for the system to search “Anywhere,��? but the drop-down menu to the right of the search boxes allows you to specify if, for example, you only want items returned that mention “Russia,��? “USSR,��? or both in the title of the work.
Now let’s suppose that you’re specifically looking for articles on censorship in Russian/Soviet libraries. Notice that the next two rows of search boxes have “and��? next to them. If I fill out the search grid as follows as in the picture below, the search will return resources that must contain the words “libraries��? and “censorship��? and either or both of “Russia��? and “USSR.��?
Another neat technique for searching using the CSA Interface is using the so-called “wildcard��? symbols: * (asterisk) and ? (question mark). These work in similar but importantly distinct ways to allow searches in which part of a word is not explicitly stated. The first of these symbols can be used to stand for zero, one, or more character(s) that are left unspecified. For example, entering “Japan*��? as a search term will return results for resources containing the words “Japan,��? “Japanese,��? “Japanophobia,��? and so on. The asterisk symbol can also be used in the middle of a term. For example, entering “lab*r movement��? as a search term will ensure that both the American English spelling of “labor��? and the Anglo-English “labour��? are included in the returned results. Note that only one asterisk is necessary and can stand for any number of additional characters (including zero). If you know the number of characters you want your wildcard symbol to stand for, that’s where the question mark comes in. For example, you might enter “wom?n��? as a search term. This will only give you results that contain words with one letter in the wildcard position, so your returned resources may contain “woman��? or “women,��? but not, say, “wombatplan.��? The same principle holds for using more than one question mark; thus searching using the term “theat??��? will return results including “theatre��? or “theater,��? but not “theatricality��? or “theat.��? (The latter word, by the way, refers to a rope or chain connecting a horse to a plow.)
Using Proximity Indicators
Proximity indicators are a means of further refining your search terms in order to increase the relevance of the returned resources, this time by defining the closeness of two words to each other as they appear in the given document. Without having stated so at the time, we actually employed a simple but powerful proximity indicator above when we created the search term “lab*r movement.��? We’ve already seen what the asterisk means in that search term, but by putting the two words in that order into one search box, we are employing the “no operator��? proximity indicator, which simply means that we only want documents returned if they contain those two words immediately adjacent to one another, and only in that order. A resource that contained the phrase “movement for the emancipation of labor,��? then, would be excluded from the list. There are four other proximity indicators available to users of the CSA Interface: before, after, within, and near. To use these indicators, just place them between your two search terms.
Before: As one might expect, the “before��? operator tells the interface that the first word entered must be before the second where it appears in a document selected for the results list, but unlike in the “no operator��? example above, adjacency is not required. A search for “apples before oranges,��? then, would include results containing phrases like “apples, oranges, and migrant labor��? or “apples as a symbol of oranges in lyric poetry,��? but not “oranges and apples ring the bells of St. Krappel’s.��? (Remember that you can use the drop down menus to further specify that your search terms must appear in the title, the abstract, etc.)
After: The “after��? operator is just the inverse of the “before��? operator. Adjacency is still not required for a valid match. A search for “apples after oranges��? would return the last example in the paragraph above, but not the first two.
Near: Use of the “near��? operator tells the CSA Interface that your two terms must appear, in either order, within ten words of one another.
Within: The “within��? operator is similar to “near,��? but instead of assuming that only ten words may separate your terms, you specify your own number. Thus, a search for “welfare within 3 reform��? will return results in which the two terms appear within three words of one another, in either order.
Further Refinement: Limiting Your Results
Once you’ve employed the above techniques and find yourself with a list of resources that match your search parameters, you may want to further winnow down your results depending on your particular requirements.
Although the databases you access through the CSA Interface contain a variety of resource types, you may want to limit your results to articles in peer-reviewed journals, those publications in which published articles undergo evaluation from people considered experts in a given field before being accepted for publication. In the list above, you can see that although twenty-four records were returned after our search, only ten of them are from peer-reviewed journals. Simply click on the appropriate tab to display only those records that originate from these journals.
Another way you may wish to pare down your initial post-searching list is by limiting the date range of the resources in your list. You may wish only to look at the most recent work on a subject, or contrariwise you might be researching what those in your field were thinking about in the 1980s. The “Date Range��? drop-down menus in the image below (which appears at the bottom of your page of search results) allows you to specify the chronology of your results.
Reviewing and Combining Searches
Okay! You’ve been searching, deploying wildcards and proximity indicators left and right, refining results lists and pondering peer-review for hours. Do not fear, for the CSA Interface has been quietly keeping a record of all your searches so you can go back and review all your results. Just click on the “Search History��? link in the upper right corner, and you’ll be given a numbered list of your search sessions like the one below.
From this page you can edit or review any individual search performed since the beginning of your session. Furthermore, using the “Combine��? button you can merge different searches into one result list. Just click the check boxes next to the searches you wish to comingle. Note that if you click the AND button before you combine searches, only those results that match the criteria of all the selected searches will be retained in the new list. Use the OR button to combine results that match any of the criterion-sets of your original searches.
If you’ve come this far you’ve learned a lot about advanced searching techniques using the CSA Database Interface, but as you mouse your way around you’ll discover terms and techniques beyond the scope of this introduction. Don’t be afraid to try things out! Remember, the CSA Interface is keeping all your searches safe during your session, so you can always go back if you find yourself at a dead end. And don’t forget that Dewey’s Reference services can be your light in the darkness if your search feels more like a stumble. If you need further help, ask at the Reference desk, use the handy IM “Ask a Librarian��? feature on Dewey’s homepage, or use the Ask a Librarian E-mail service. One final word of advice: even if you aren’t going to start working in earnest on a given assignment or project right away, start your search for information sources early and you’ll have access not just to the wealth of materials instantly available online in full text for printing out and taking home that day, and not just to the circulating and noncirculating print holdings at Dewey, but to a whole other universe of materials through UAlbany library services such as Interlibrary Loan and UA Delivery. These requests may take some time to fulfill, but if you start your research early enough ILL and UA Delivery can work miracles and give you access to the perfect sources for your paper or project.
Blog Post created by Ryan Murray