Subject searching success: Transaction logs, patron perceptions, and implications for library instruction

Karen Antell, Jie Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Subject searching in the OPAC is the most problematic of all search types, causing far greater difficulty for patrons than keyword searching and known-item searching. This study combines two methodologies - transaction log analysis and user observation interviews - to examine the reasons for patrons' failure to use subject searching effectively. The transaction log analysis shows that patrons rarely utilize correct and complete subject terms and that they retrieve zero results in almost half of their searches. Furthermore, the user observation interviews reveal that users generally are unaware of the many tools and services that librarians have created to assist them with subject searching, and that asking a librarian for help simply does not occur to them. Even when searchers do locate and employ subject terms, the subject terms appear not to help them very much: Analysis of observed searches reveals almost no correlation between finding a subject term and judging a subject search to be successful. The authors discuss the potential for further research on "just-in-time" instruction, online instruction, and "tagging" as possible strategies to improve patrons' searching success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-76
Number of pages9
JournalReference and User Services Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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