I’ve been using the Polaris ILS for something like 11 or 12 years now and it’s one of the most popular integrated library systems out there. Public libraries tend to use it, but I’ve seen it in other kinds of libraries too. While no ILS is perfect, and Polaris certainly isn’t, I will say that it’s very robust and easy to use. With an hour or so of training, you can get someone primed to perform any and all circulation functions. Sure, they won’t be an expert, but they’ll be able to do things pretty well.

Now then, one of the central aspects of Polaris is the Find Tool. You use it to, Surprise!, find things. I mean anything – you use it to find patrons, books, lists, records, anything. It’s a unified way to find whatever it is you’re looking for and the only thing that changes is the area it’s searching. So, no big shock, we use it a lot when a patron wants to know if we have a specific item in the library.

Naturally, when a patron asks “Do you have this book?” what they’re really asking is “Do you have this book in this library and is it checked in so I can check it out?”  Using the Find Tool, you can drill down all the options needed to answer that question.

The thing is, you have to do a lot of clickity-clicking with the mouse to do that.  Say someone wants to know if we have a copy of the book The Hunger Games in our branch. Here’s what you need to do, highlighting the clicks:

  1. Bring up the Find Tool (Click Cataloging and click Item Records.)
  2. Type Hunger Games into the For field (see above).
  3. Where it says Circulation Status above, click In.
  4. Click the Branches tab and then click the Unselect All button to turn off every branch in your system.
  5. Click the check box next to your branch.
  6. Click the Search button.

That’s what? Seven clicks?

By the way, have I ever mentioned how much I loathe excessively using the mouse?

So, a while back, I started using a feature in Polaris that no one seems to use because they think it’s complicated and weird and just too much work. Yet for me, it’s less work because I can the same search, all six steps, with a one line query:

ti=”hunger games” and ab=18 and mat=1 and cs=1

That weird looking stuff is the Common Command Language used by Polaris. With it, you can do some really powerful searches with just a typed question, because that’s all that line is, a question. What I’m asking is, “Does my library have a copy of the book titled Hunger Games and is it in?” Here’s how it works.

First, see where there’s a selection for the Search Mode? Select the Power search and you get a very different looking Find Tool:

ti=”hunger games”- all this means is title = “Hunger Games.” Like Google, if you put two or more words in quotation marks, Polaris CCL will search for that phrase rather than each word.

ab=18- ab means Assigned Branch. In Polaris, each branch is assigned a numerical code. My branch is coded as number 18. So I’m asking if Branch 18 (my branch), and my branch alone, has the book.

mat=1- mat, like ti, is just an abbreviation of Material Type.  Like the branches, each type of material has a number code. For books, this number is 1.

cs=1- cs is short for Circulation Status, in other words, whether or not the book is out, in, in-repair, lost, etc. In this case a cs of 1 means In.

Between those statements, I’ve used the Boolean operator and. I can use not or or, but for 99% of my typical “do we have this thing” kind of search, and is my go-to operator.

Now, allow me to channel the late Billy Mays and say BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Say I completely lose my mind and forget the title of the book that some guy named Gibbon wrote about the history of Rome. No worries, I can use keywords and author searches in my CCL query too. For instance:

kw=rome and kw=history and au=gibbon

Sure enough, I get The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and I never asked for the title.

Last one, for now: Let’s say I’ve got a high school student in here. She’s doing a report on World War II, specifically the war in Germany. Obviously, there’s a lot of fiction about that, but she wants non-fiction books. Here’s one of my secret CCL weapons, like Material Type and Assigned Branch, Collections also has a numerical code. In the case of my library’s Polaris set up, the code for the non-fiction colleciton is 33 and Collection is abbreviated as col.

Let’s take it a step further. She’s willing to drive to the closer branches if my branch doesn’t have the books she needs. Using the standard Find Tool configuration, this kind of search is fairly easy, but there’s a LOT of clicking, and adding, and tweaking, and…

Screw that:

kw=germany and kw=”world war II” and mat=1 and cs=1 and col=33 and ab={23,18,8}

See that? You can even group things together in curly brackets (or braces if you’re into proper terminology).

A whole book could be written on how to use the CCL, but Polaris provides a pretty decent guide to the whole thing in the Polaris Basics Guide under Doing Power Searches. It’s worth messing with, especially if you just learn the stuff you need to do the most common searches. Less clicking, faster and more precise searches, and you get the items your patrons want even more quickly than before!

One thing to note, your library could be (and by “could be” I mean “most certainly”) using different codes for different things. Check with your Technical Services or IT folks to see what they are.