Complex AND-OR-NOT Searching using Summon

When doing complex librarian-style searching, you often run up against the limits of the Summon interface. Like most library systems, in order to reduce confusion from users the Summon interface limits the number of characters in a search box to 128.

When a librarian or other experienced searcher is attempting to do a sophisticated set of Boolean searches this character limit and the complexity of the nested search terms often stymies a search. A single punctuation mark out of place can ruin a whole search string.

Summon, and many other search systems, usually only place this limit on the content of forms. When applying a search string using the URL (or more precisely in the case of Summon, the Summon API) you can submit much more complex and lengthy search requests

For this example, I created a Google Sheet with two sheets.

The first allows the user to create complex AND, OR or NOT search statements in a string, such as (in the example data)

“college admission” OR “university admission” OR “community college admission” OR “higher education” OR “tertiary education”

Search Example 1

This has extra options for searching sections inside Summon such as Author, Title, Publication Date and Abstract. The Keyword search is indicated with the open parenthesis  (.

After you create this search statement you can copy it from the “Summon Search String” cell and paste it (make sure you paste values only) into the Search String cells on the second spreadsheet.

The second sheet allows you to string multiple search statements together with AND, Or or NOT

(“affirmative action” OR “quota” OR “equal opportunity” OR “nondiscrimination” ) AND (“Asian” OR “Black” OR “Middle Eastern” OR “Hispanic” OR “American Indian” OR “Indian” OR “Pakistani”  ) AND PublicationDate:(“1990” OR “1991” OR “1992” OR “1993” OR “1994” OR “1995” OR “1996” OR “1997” OR “1998” OR “1999” OR “2000”) AND (“college admission” OR “university admission” OR “community college admission” OR “higher education” OR “tertiary education” )

Search Example 2

For more subtle manipulation of the Boolean searches, it’s quite easy to copy the contents of the ‘Test This Search” box into Notepad and adjust it as necessary.

For example, I’d adjust the above statement in this way for clarity

((“affirmative action” OR “quota” OR “equal opportunity” OR “nondiscrimination” ) AND (“Asian” OR “Black” OR “Middle Eastern” OR “Hispanic” OR “American Indian” OR “Indian” OR “Pakistani”  ) AND (“college admission” OR “university admission” OR “community college admission” OR “higher education” OR “tertiary education” )) AND PublicationDate:(“1990” OR “1991” OR “1992” OR “1993” OR “1994” OR “1995” OR “1996” OR “1997” OR “1998” OR “1999” OR “2000”)

Search Example 3

Within the example sheet, I’ve added the settings for ‘Full Text’ and ‘Scholarly’.  On the first example (1), no settings are in place, on both of the more complex examples (2 and 3), ‘Scholarly’ is set to Yes, while ‘Full Text’ is set to No.

Additional options that could be added include limits to Books, Journals or various forms of media.

For this example, I’ve used the Summon instance at the University of Toronto. Please feel free to make a copy of this sheet, and feel free to contact me if you’re running into problems adjusting this for your university’s Summon settings.

The basic principles of this project are applicable to any library system, but the details on the back end will vary considerably. I wrote the initial version of this project to simplify complex searching in an InMagic Presto database using Excel 2016

Sharing is currently set to ‘View’, please make a copy and adjust it to your own circumstances as necessary.

V1 Example Complex  Boolean Search Spreadsheet

The Summon API documentation is really useful for determining which fields are available for creating complex searches.

Summon API Fields Documentation


Frontiers of Business – Reputation Management – Custom Google Search

To continue this series on using free, web based systems to easily monitor the online business enviroment I am going to focus on creating custom Google searches to find what is being said about your company and products online.

The simplest method, of course, is to search for your products on Google’s News site. For an example, we’ll use McDonalds.

Note how scattered this search is, as of 4:00 today news results from New Zealand, the UK, Virginia and California in the first results. If your product/company name is unique, simple and localized this may be all you need. To tighten up the results, we can limit this search in a number of ways.

The first, is to restrict the search to a single website. I’ll use McDonalds and my favorite consumer affairs website, the Consumerist. This works from the standard Google search, not the news site. Google uses ‘site:’ to limit searches to a single site, so our search string will be


Notice how much more focused this is. There is specific, negative responses to McDonalds promoting through blogs and on elementary school report cards. This could be applied to any consumer affairs site.

The second way in which I’ll show you how to limit search results is by using – and +, what us library nerds would call Boolean logic. I’m going back to Google News now, and I’ll show a couple of search strings. Let’s imagine that I’m looking for news stories relating only to the coffee McDondalds sells, nothing else.

The search string:

McDonalds +Coffee – hamburgers -burritos -salad

This is a silly example, and as you can see the results are not that effective. I’ll give another more effective one.

As part of my religious studies hobby I follow news stories on a variety of religious groups, including the LDS Church (Mormons, Latter-day Saints, the guys with the white shirts and nametags at your door). Part of the problem I ran into with a simple ‘Mormon’ search was the incredable number of Mormon Roads and Boulevards that are out there. I was getting an overwhelming number of crime reports from Kansas. Also, LDS is an acronym used in farm futures, so I got a lot of data regarding hog prices and wheat futures in my religious studies RSS feed. Over time I tweaked the search to go like this

Mormon OR LDS -Road -Boulevard -Blvd -“DTN Cattle Close/Trends”

Note what happens there, Road, Boulevard and Blvd are excluded, as is the specific title of the report that kept popping farm data up.

You can target these search strings down until you are pulling in exactly what you want. When your done, grab the RSS feed for the search and let your RSS reader do the work of pulling everything together.