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This guide offers databases, websites, and books providing biographical information.

Library Databases

Database Search Tips

Getting started with your search:

  • Use these common search techniques that can be applied to almost any database, as well as our library catalog, PPLD's website (, and even commercial search engines. 
  • Searching the library website and searching databases is different than searching Google.
  • The techniques recommended under the other tabs will enable you to quickly retrieve relevant information from the thousands of records in a database. 
  • If you need further assistance searching the databases, please call the telephone reference line (719) 389-8968 during normal library hours.

A keyword search looks for one or more complete words that are contained anywhere in a record, including: titles, people, places, notes, abstracts, summaries, descriptions, and subjects. This type of search is a good substitute for a subject search when you don't know the authorized subject heading form. You can enter words in upper or lower case, and if you use multiple words you can enter them in any order.

Your search results can contain a range of items related to your keyword(s) search:

  • Words that appear in the title
  • Words that describe the subject matter
  • Author's name
  • Format or language
  • Year of publication
  • Name(s) or publishers and/or distributors of the item
  • If the item is an article, then you can search for the name of the magazine or journal in which the article appears
  • For recorded music and movies: artist, actor, or director name

Subject headings describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic. Searching by subject headings (a.k.a descriptors) is the most precise way to search databases.

What you need to know about subject headings, also commonly referred to as subheadings:

  • Pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item (book, journal article) in a database. 
  • Less flexible when conducting a search. You need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term. Results will very based on the topic.
  • A database will look for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field, where the most relevant words appear.
  • If your search produces too many results, then consider using subheadings to focus on one aspect of the broader subject. A subheading is a division subordinate to a main heading or top level subject.

A phrase search uses quotation marks to allow an exact match to the phrase searched. This can be a title or keyword search, and can include two or more words. For example:

  • "consumer reports"
  • "criminal justice"
  • "regional history"
  • "george washington"

Boolean operators allow you to group, include, or exclude certain terms in your search. You can use these operators:

Operator Description A search like the following... Will return these results...
AND (uppercase), or the plus sign +

This is the default search operator. The database will search using the word "AND" or the plus sign to find all of the words typed in the search box.

Note: Any search for terms without an operator will return items with all the words.

guns AND germs AND steel

guns + germs + steel

with all of the words entered in the search box: guns, germs, steel
OR (uppercase), or the | symbol The use of the word "OR", or the | symbol, will search for either of the words listed in the search box.

costume OR fashion

costume | fashion

for any of the words entered in the search box with results that will include either terms, but not necessarily both:

costume OR fashion

NOT (uppercase), or the minus sign - The word "NOT" or the minus sign will exclude terms from your search.

Paris NOT fashion

Paris - fashion

for Paris, but not fashion

quotation marks " " To search for an exact phrase, the search terms should be enclosed in quotation marks. "The Grapes of Wrath" where all words are located directly next to each other in the search results


( )

Use parentheses to create more precise searches. dog (walking OR feeding OR grooming)

dog walking

dog feeding

dog grooming


Truncation allows you to search for a term and its variations by entering a minimum of the first three letters of the term followed by a question mark symbol (?) or an asterisk (*). 


This search... Returns items whose record contains the following:











Wildcards are special characters used to represent additional characters in a search term. They are useful when you are unsure of spelling, when there are alternate spellings, or when you only know part of a term. You can use these two wildcards:

Pound sign (#): The pound sign, also called a number sign or hash mark, represents a single character.


  • A search for the term wom#n will return items whose record contains the terms woman or women.
  • A search for the term adverti#e will return items whose record contains the terms advertise or advertize.

Question mark (?): The question mark represents any number of additional characters. Include a number if you know the maximum number of characters the wildcard will replace. 


  • A search for the term anders?n will return items whose record contains the terms anderson or andersen.
  • A search for the term bu?2er will return items whose record contains the terms burner or butler.

Stop words are frequently occurring, insignificant words that appear in a database record, article or web page.

Common stop words include: a, an, the, in, of , on, are, be, if, into, which

Why stop words matter?

  • Boolean operators are not recognized as stop words when capitalized. They are search commands.
  • Many databases ignore common words from your search statement. If included, the database might return too many results.
  • Know which words to include or exclude from your search.
  • Databases can recognize common stop words when they are part of the controlled vocabulary of subject headings and descriptors. In this case, consider using quotation marks. For example, a search conducted in title keyword for out "of" africa, retrieves the title: Out of Africa
  • Check the Help screen on your database for a complete list of stop words.
  • Search for your terms in specific fields: author, title, subject/descriptor.