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Learner guide: WorldCat Discovery search fundamentals

Course overview

The WorldCat Discovery search fundamentals course teaches you how to perform basic searches, refine search results, select indexes and utilize guided searching on the advanced search screen. This course will give you the information you need to be successful in achieving your searching goals and helping your library users to do the same.

 Note:  This learner guide is designed to accompany the WorldCat Discovery search fundamentals course.

Basic search

Basic searches are the least complex level of searching in WorldCat Discovery. This search typically utilizes one search text box and faceted navigation to filter and narrow the search. By default, searching in WorldCat Discovery will automatically apply the keyword (kw:) index.

Additional index labels and Boolean operators may be manually applied to search terms where desired.

Indexes and syntax

Index labels combined with Boolean operators can be entered in any search box, including the multiple search boxes on the Advanced Search screen.

Things to note:

  • If using indexes, it is important to apply them to all search terms. Otherwise, those terms without index labels will be treated as keyword (kw:) searches.
  • Capitalize the Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) when using them in a search.
  • Boolean searches are processed in left to right order.

Guideline and requirements

Basic search examples

Boolean search Wildcard search Truncation search Index search
car AND highway road organi#ation traffic regulat* su:Automobiles
modern AND art colo#r theory graphic art* su:Color in art
leader AND gender executive wom#n corporat* divers* su:Leadership

Continued reading on searching:

Local holdings record (LHR) data may be searched utilizing barcode, call number, item-level note, and shelving location. See: Search LHR data

Advanced search

Access the Advanced Search option in the navigational bar or below the search bar in your WorldCat Discovery interface. The Advanced Search offers the ability to enter search terms in multiple search boxes, select databases to search within, and utilize Search Tools to choose from applicable indexes.

Transition from basic to advanced search

Search terms can be transferred to an advanced search from the basic search results screen by clicking the Advanced Search link in the navigation bar. These terms are carried over to the Search Term field on the Advanced Search screen with the default keyword index selected. Additional search parameters, indexes, and search tools can then be applied to this query.

Advanced search guidelines

Indexes are available for guided searching from the Search Index drop-down lists. Phrase indexes are included and labeled as such.

  • Phrase indexes search for every word from left to right, in order. For a title phrase, exclude the initial articles (A, An, The) and their equivalents in other languages. Include all other words or truncate the phrase with an asterisk (*).
  • With an author phrase search, enter the name in inverted order (Smith, Jane).
  • Search Tools* containing additional limits are located at the bottom of the screen.

Screenshot of the Discovery Advanced Search interface with a call out on the Search Tools section

  • * The Search Tools available depend upon the content being searched: WorldCat, a single database, multiple databases, and so on.

Once a query is submitted using the Advanced Search screen a search string is created and displayed in the Search Result's search box.

Advanced search examples

Screenshot of the Discovery Advanced Search boxes containing search terms

Search string result:  au:(Patchett, Ann) AND ti:(Dutch House) NOT bn:(9780062966469) AND (yr:2021)


Screenshot of the Discovery Advanced Search boxes containing search terms

Search string result: su="London, Ohio" NOT su:(England) NOT kw:(Britain)

With each query, additional search tools can be applied such as year, language, and material type to further narrow the search results returned.

Searching databases

Databases and collections are accessible in WorldCat Discovery via a central index of metadata from multiple content providers or via remote access from a subscription provider’s site. The content provider determines whether their database is represented in the central index or as a remote database.

  • The default database configured in WorldCat Discovery is This database includes the bibliographic information from WorldCat as well as authoritative e-content collections.
  • Additional default databases may be configured through Metasearch Content.

When the database selection panel is open it displays the currently selected databases and the additional database groups available for selection.

Search results and filters

Use filters to refine search results. Default filter labels are:

  • Library
  • Format
  • Content
  • Year
  • Author
  • Topic (See: OCLC Conspectus)
  • Database
  • Language
  • Audience

These filter labels may be customized in the Service Configuration based on library preferences. Refer to Search Filter Settings for details.

Once filters are selected, they can be reapplied to preserve the search context in a single session without having to manually select them again. To do this, check the “Retain filters” box which appears at the top left of the screen.

Screenshot of Discovery search interface with a call out on the option to retain filters

See: Learn how to further customize your library’s search results in WorldCat Discovery


WorldCat Discovery Sort on Search Results

You may define how search results are sorted by default when initially displayed. A user may change this setting to view other sort options, but every time a search result is initially displayed, the default sort setting will always be selected. Choose your default sort level from the list.

 Note: The WorldCat Local default sort is no longer supported by WorldCat Discovery.

Sort option Behavior
Best Match
  • Blends boosts on Title, Author, Subject and Abstract, while considering word order and position.
  • Prefers recent over older materials and popular over rare materials with boosts on Publication Date and Worldwide Holdings.
  • Prefers materials from local and group collections, boosting those over materials from other libraries worldwide.
Recency Shares all features of the Best Match sort except that it dramatically boosts more recently published materials. Recency demands more recent material.
Library Shares all features of the Best Match sort except that it dramatically boosts materials from local and group collections. Library demands local collections over group and group over worldwide.
Author (A to Z)

Sorts by special characters or numbers in the first name, then A to Z by last name.

Date (Newest)

Sorts chronologically by publication year with newest items listed first.

Date (Oldest) Sorts chronologically by publication year with oldest items listed first.
Most Widely Held Presents an "unclustered" view of search results with an emphasis on Worldwide Holdings in a blend of Date, Title, and Author. Use this sort option to view best results for interlibrary loan requests.
Title Sorts by special characters, then alphabetically by Title. Only the article "the" is ignored.


Search author from brief item detail

In a search result’s brief item detail, you can perform a search for additional works by an author by clicking that author’s name; this prompts an author phrase index (au=).

Further reading: Item bibliographic data display

Search history and search alerts

Search history

Allows non-authenticated users to view their recent searches executed in a single browsing session and allow authenticated users to view recent searches from My Account. Learn how to enable this feature. These search queries can then be re-run, saved, shared, and deleted.

Search alerts

Allows users to monitor new, relevant information to saved search queries and be automatically notified if new results meet their saved search alert criteria. An entered email address will receive notifications when new results are available based on the frequency selected. Enable search alerts for your institution.

Expand This Search With

Use this accordion to expand the search with related or translated terms.

Enable searching across authority files to find relevant search terms, including related, variant, or deprecated search terms. 

  • When Expand Search with Related Terms is applied to a search query and the search term matches on the 1xx and 4xx fields of an authority record, additional terms are added from any authority source that your library has configured, regardless of the language determined for the authority source, the user interface, or the user's query. 
  • When Expand Search with Related Terms is applied to a search query and the search term is the authority term in the 1xx field, then only the authority term is searched.
    • Example: Livy.
      • If the search term is one of the alternate terms in the 4xx field then the alternate term and the authoritative term are searched.
    • Example: Livius will search Livius and Livy.
      • These terms are added from any authority source that your library has configured, regardless of the language determined for the authority source, the user interface, or the user's query.

To configure this setting to appear or be selected by default, see Search Expansion Settings, Related Terms.

An information bar will appear at the top of the search results screen indicating that expanded terms were used for the search. Select the original search terms to search again without using the expanded terms. Select the include related terms link to see which related terms were used.  


A user-initiated keyword search will return results from the keyword index to ensure matching phrases from uncontrolled vocabularies appear as well. The search needs to know that terms are separate in order to include related terms across authority files. For example, searching "history of the Roman empire" will not expand the search to include related terms, but the search "history" "Roman" "empire" will return results for related terms.

Search expansions will search as keywords over the appropriate indexes.


Expand search with translated terms

To configure this setting to appear or be selected by default, see Search Expansion Settings, Translated Terms

Additional terms appear if the search term matches on the 7xx field for parallel terms occurring in the RVM Répertoire de vedettes-matière and RVMGF Répertoire de vedettes-matière Genre Form authority files.


Test your knowledge

  1. Which of these is an example of a Boolean operator?
    1. sustainable AND architecture
    2. green build*
    3. eco organi#ation
  2. Advanced Search offers. . .
    1. Multiple search boxes to utilize simultaneously
    2. Search Tools offering additional limits
    3. Both
  3. Search queries can be saved and shared.
    1. True
    2. False
Answer key
  1. a
  2. c
  3. a

Supplemental information