Library Search help

The Birmingham City University Library Search places a world of knowledge at your finger tips. Learn about the library's powerful search features that will save you time and open new perspectives in your research and studies.

From essential skills to advanced searching techniques, this guide will teach you how to use the Library Search so you can:

  1. Use the BCU Library Search box

  2. Identify relevant items

  3. Refine your search results

  4. Check an item's availability

  5. Discover related resources

  6. Export records and references

  7. Build advanced search queries

  8. Save search queries

  9. Manage your Library account

Use the BCU Library Search box

To start a search, go to the Library home page, type terms separated by spaces in the search box and press return or click the submit button.
You can also use your device’s microphone to dictate search terms.


  • Sign-in with your BCU email address and password to benefit from all the Library Search features and services.
  • Searches are not case-sensitive.
  • The Library Search assumes you are looking for all of the terms unless you type OR or NOT.
  • For many search terms, both UK and US spellings are searched at the same time, for example "anesthetic" or "anaesthetic" will return results for both words if only one is used.
  • Voice search requires an up-to-date web browser. If no microphone is selected, follow the prompts from the web browser.

Select a search option

The search options pane appears after you start typing in the search box. Select a suggestion or an option to search only within a set record type:

  • Everything: All available entries.
  • Physical resources: The stock within the library buildings such as books, newspapers, music scores, DVDs, etc...
  • Online resources: eBooks, journals, articles and other electronic resources from the publishers' and aggregators' online databases.
  • Articles: Publications from online journals only.
  • BCU Digital Library: Dissertations, old exam papers and useful reading for your course.

Search options pane

If you are not sure of the type of document you are looking for, you can select an option or filters on the search results page.

Identify relevant items

The results page presents a list of brief records with the matching terms highlighted in yellow.
Pay attention to the following records to determine the relevance of the results:

  1. Number of results
  2. Resource type
  3. Title
  4. Citation
  5. Brief description or abstract
  6. Content attributes
  7. Citation trail  

Library search brief item records card

Refine your search results

Filter results

The Refine Results section on the left of the results page contains a list of filters such as: Resource type, Availability, Author, Publication date, etc …
Select one or multiple filters and click Apply to refine the search results.

Tip: Click the Remember all filters button to make filters persist throughout multiple searches.

Note: Keep the browser window open to preserve your filters selection. The selection does not persist between sessions, even when signed-in.

Personalize results ranking

Another way to obtain more relevant results is to increase the ranking of results related to disciplines of your choice.
Click on the Personalize switch located under the search box and check the boxes corresponding to the desired disciplines under the Personalise the results dialog.

Personnalise ranking toggle

Select disciplines


  • You can select up to five disciplines.
  • Make sure to sign-in with your BCU email address and password to preserve your personalized choices between sessions.

Click Edit disciplines to modify your selection under the personalized results section.

Edit disciplines

Check an item's availability

Once you have located a record you want to consult, look for the access links in the brief item record.
Click the Available online or Available at links to reveal more information in the detailed view.

Access link to resource

Read eBooks and journal articles online

Look for links to the publisher's website in the View Online section.

View online section

Tip: You may be required to sign-in with your BCU email address and password to view full text online. Keep your multi-factor trusted device handy when consulting online resources.

Locate and request a physical item within the library

In the detailed record view, look for the How to get it section. If the item is available you can request it for collection and find its location and shelf mark within the library (example).

How to get it section

Discover related resources

The Library Search offers features to help you extend the scope of your search and find other related resources. Look for these features in the research results page and the detailed records view.

Note: You must be signed-in with your BCU email address and password to see the discovery features.

Follow the citation trail

The Library Search can detect when an online resource is cited in another resource.
Look for the Find sources citing this and Find sourced cited in this buttons in the upper right corner of the brief item records and on the detailed record view in the Citations section (example).

Cited by buttons

Follow the links in the details

Another way to explore resources is to follow the Creator and Subject sections in the detailed record view (example).

Discovery links

Export records and references

Use the export buttons in the upper corner of each resource summary to export the corresponding records or citations. Click the Show more actions button and reveal additional export options including: eMail, Permalink, Citation, Endnote, .Ris file or Print.

Export buttons

Build advanced search queries

The library's search engine uses search enhancements (such as inflection of a phrase based on correlation statistics) to find terms or phrases matching your query.
A query composed of words separated by spaces is treated as a sentence and returns results in which all of the words may be close together.

You can elaborate queries using special characters and operators to combine search terms for more precise searching.

Use grouping symbols, operators and wildcards

The search box accepts the following symbols and operators to configure your queries:

  • "" (quotation marks)
  • * (Asterisk)
  • ? (question mark)
  • () (parenthesis)
  • AND
  • NOT 
  • OR

Tip: The Library Search assumes that you are searching for all of the words unless you type OR or NOT between words and phrases.

Search for an exact phrase using quotation marks

Type quotation marks around the phrase. You can combine both words and phrases in your search.

Try it now: Search for Descartes' extended cogito.

Enter the following terms in separate library searches or click the links below:

Look for highlighted words in the search results.
Do you notice the difference between the two queries?

dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum returns the best match, in no specific order.
"dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum" returns only resources matching all words in the specified order.


  • If you do not enclose the phrase with quotation marks, the Library Search will find items that contain the individual words in the phrase, regardless of whether these words are located next to each other in the order specified.
  • If a comma is used to separate words in a list, the comma must be followed by a space. Otherwise, the system will consider the comma to be part of the word and return fewer results than expected.

Broaden your search with a wildcard character

Question mark (?)

Replace a character with a question mark to include all the single character variants of a word in your query.

Try it now

Enter the following term in a library search or click the link below:

Look for highlighted words in the search results.
Are all highlighted terms the same?

wom?n displays records that contain variants of the search term such as woman, women, and so forth.

Asterisk (*)

Replace a character with an asterisk to include all the multiple characters variants of a word in your query.

Try it now

Enter the following term in a library search or click the link below:

Look for highlighted words in the search results.
Which terms did this query find?

cultur* displays records that contain words starting with cultur such as culture, cultural, and culturally.


  • You can use one asterisk as the only search term to return all the items within a given search option or filter.
  • Example:  this query returns the list of all journals ordered alphabetically.
  • You cannot use a wildcard character to return both UK/US synonyms. Anesth* will only return US variations on this word, and Anaesth* will only return UK variations.

Exclude words or phrases with NOT

You can exclude items that contain specific words or phrases. To do so, type NOT and then type the word or phrase to exclude.

Try it now

Enter the following terms in separate library searches or click the links below:

  1. Irish Celtic
  2. Irish NOT Celtic

Look for highlighted words in the search results and the number of items found.
What is the difference between the two queries?

Irish Celtic returns items containing both irish AND celtic.
Irish NOT Celtic returns items with the word Irish and the operator NOT excludes any of these items with the word Celtic.

Search for any specified words or phrases with OR

You can search for items that contain at least one of the words or phrases you type in the Search box, but not both. To do so, type OR between the words or phrases.

Try it now

Enter the following terms in separate library searches or click the links below:

  1. Irish Celtic
  2. Irish OR Celtic

Are both queries returning the same number of results?

Irish Celtic returns items containing both irish AND celtic .

Irish OR Celtic returns any item containing either irish OR celtic .

Group terms within a query

If you use more than one operator in your query, the following rule of precedence applies:

  • Parentheses: The operator within parentheses is processed before the operators outside the parentheses. Parentheses nested within parentheses, are processed before the containing parentheses.
  • AND and NOT: The first AND or NOT operator is processed before the next AND or NOT operator.
  • OR: The first OR operator is processed before the next OR operator. If there are AND or NOT operators in the same search phrase, OR is processed after AND and NOT.

When using more than one operator, it is advised you group terms with parentheses to define the order of precedence in which you want the operators to be processed.


  • The syntax is similar to the one used in arithmetic: the content of the parentheses is processed first and the result is passed to the operator located outside of the parentheses.
  • For right-to-left languages (such as Arabic), the order of precedence is right-to-left.

Try it now

Open the following queries in separate windows: 

  1. (Shakespeare NOT tragedy) AND sonnet
  2. Shakespeare NOT (tragedy AND sonnet)

Look for highlighted words in the search results and compare the number of results.

In (Shakespeare NOT tragedy) AND sonnet, NOT is processed before AND . The results do not include tragedy. All results include both Shakespeare and sonnet.
In Shakespeare NOT (tragedy AND sonnet), AND applies before NOT , so all the results including both tragedy and sonnet are excluded from the results matching Shakespeare.

Using the advanced search box

The advanced search allows you to specify precise search parameters for the search box. You can combine multiple search lines separated by Boolean operators and apply search filters to the overall query.

The search lines include the following elements:

  • Line operator: Operators AND, NOT or OR separate the lines in the same way boolean operators separate words or phrases in the simple search box.
  • Field selector: Search any field or limit your search to Titles, Authors/creators, Subjects or ISBN.
  • Search type: Indicate how your search terms should compare against the search field (Contains, Is, Starts with).
  • Search box: Enter text like you would in the simple search box.

The filters allow you to search for a specific material type, language, start date and end date.

Advanced search
The query summary displays how the query will be processed.


  • Add up to five lines for a total of seven lines per advanced query.
  • You can use parentheses, wildcards and Boolean operators within each line's search box as you would in a simple search box.
  • The line operators use the following order of precedence:
    • The content of a line is handled as if it is between parentheses.
    • AND and NOT: The first AND or NOT line operator is processed before the next line operator.
    • OR: OR is processed after AND or NOT. If multiple OR are used, the first OR is processed before the next one.
  • As a line operator, OR effectively splits your advanced query into multiple independent search lines.
  • You can click on the words in the query summary to change the corresponding parameters.

Try it now: You are looking for a book about computer graphics lighting.

Line one: Open the advanced search, set the material type to books and type Lighting technique in the first line and submit:

~917 results: Lighting technique returns many resources about other subjects or disciplines such as photography or cinema.

Line two: Type Computer graphics OR CG in the search box and submit:

~245 results: AND has limited the search to results that include Computer graphics. Notice how OR expanded the search to include both Computer graphics and its acronym CG. Also notice the many results about 3DS Max which you do not need.

Line three: Add a new line starting with NOT Title contains "3DS Max" and submit:

~222 results: Books which title included 3DS Max were not included in the results. 

Note about NOT

The NOT operator can exclude relevant resources from your search results.
Use NOT with caution after you have clearly identified the scope of the terms to exclude.

Save search queries

After crafting an effective search query you may want to save it for later use.
Click the Save query button under the search box to add it to your favourites. You can register to receive a notification when the results of the query change.
To retrieve and manage your saved queries, click the my Favorites button in the top right corner of the page.

Save query button

Note: The Save query button is available only after you sign-in with your BCU email address and password.

Tip You can easily share the current search query with another device by scanning the QR-code. Click on the QR-code  button in the navigation menu to display the QR-Code or copy the direct link to the query.

QR-Code button

Manage your Library account

Your student ID card allows you to reserve and borrow physical items using the self-service kiosks in your campus' library.
To learn more about borrowing, loan rules and fines, consult the Borrowing, renewing and returning page.

My Account page

To access your account information, click the menu button and select My account. 

If you are prompted to sign-in, choose the appropriate authentication method:

  • Birmingham City University Students and Staff: Use your BCU email and password.
  • Other Registered Users: Use the email address and password you set when joining the library.


The overview tab gives you a summary of your loans, fines, requests or messages.

The My Account page with multiple sub-tabs Overview, Loans, Requests, Fine+Fees, Blocks+Messages and Personal details.

Don't hesitate to ask a librarian for help on the web  or at the helpdesk if you have questions.

In this video you learn how to use the simple and yet powerful features of the BCU Library Search box.

Start by opening the Library website: in your web browser.

In the search box, enter terms separated by spaces and press return or click the search button.

The search results open in a new tab or window.

You can change the default Everything option to the type of resource you are looking for: physical resources for paper books or multimedia items, online resources such as eBooks, only Journal articles or previous BCU students’ work.

You can also use the voice search button to dictate your query using your device’s microphone.
Harvard referencing
Remember you to sign-in to access full text online and more features.

To start another query within the same window, click the clear search text button and enter new terms.

Filter options and suggestions appear under the search box as you type.
Select an option to submit the new query.

You can learn more about the search results page on the BCU Library Search help page linked below:

That’s it for now.
Let us know how we could improve this video using the feedback link.
In this video you learn how to refine your library search results.

Let’s start by submitting a simple query from the library website.

You will find the refine option on the left side of the result page.

This query found more than 60,000 items.

By default the Library Search includes only online and physical resources provided by the Library.

If you include items beyond the library's collections, keep in mind that some resources may require a fee to access or may be held by other libraries.

For the purpose of this demonstration, let’s limit the results to include only articles from peer-reviewed journals.

Check the boxes and apply.

We have refined the results to 7600 items.

Then let’s set a shorter range for the publication date, let’s say from the year 2000 on. Check the box and apply.

And then let’s sort the results from the oldest to the more recent and verify.

Scroll down to reveal more filters such as subjects, journals or collections.

To exclude results matching another criteria click the barred checkbox icon next to the option.

To remove a filter, click the cross in the label under the Active filters section.

If you want to add keywords to the query without loosing the active filters, click the Remember all filters option, add the keyword and search again.

To clear all active filters, click the Reset filters button.

Two editions of the ebook and one more recent edition of the paper book.

This is it. You should now be able to refine and sort your search results using BCU Library search.

Let us know if you liked this video and how we could improve it using the feedback link.

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