Advanced Acumen Searching

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Acumen is big. Very big. And it’s getting bigger.  I’m pointing this out because when databases like Acumen get big, they become impossible to search through manually. Generally speaking, one can’t just browse casually through thousands and thousands of folder directories and expect to find a very specific file. So custom search engines are created so users can use keywords to locate exact files quickly. Acumen has a search engine (located HERE) that is very helpful at finding files, but like all search engines it has its strengths, its limitations, and its secrets. Knowing more about how Acumen’s search engine works will help you locate the files you want to find.

*Note that Acumen’s search engine is constantly in a state of change as we strive to improve its functionality, so the following information may not be relevant in the future, and may not function as expected from time to time. New features and methods of searching besides those mentioned here may also be added.

If you were to search Acumen for something using only keywords, then the search engine would return thousands of pages of results. This can be a bit intimidating. Sometimes what you’re looking for is near the top of the list, but if you comb through several pages and still can’t find what you need then it can become frustrating. Thankfully, there are ways of narrowing down the search results. By default, Acumen’s Search engine is designed to organize search results so results containing all keywords populate to the top, followed by results containing only some of the keywords. In order to narrow the search further, you have to use search operators.


The Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT (in all caps form) can be used to force the engine to return only those queries. For example, if you searched for “1813 AND letter”, the search engine would only show results that contained both of those keywords instead of either of them. This drastically reduces the amount of results that are returned making it much easier to find exact files.

Geek Trivia: In 1894, a certain Mr. George Boole recorded a unique approach to problem solving in his book “An Investigation Of The Laws Of Thought” (which was originally titled “An Investigation Of The Laws Of Thought On Which Are Founded The Mathematical Theories Of Logic And Probabilities”, but that’s neither here nor there). In his book, Boole laid out a set of mathematical rules, aka Boolean Logic, which would later become integral to designing electronics, computer programs, and yes even the humble search engine.

Lucene query syntax…

But that’s not Acumen’s only secret. You can also specify specific fields to search using the standard Lucene query syntax, which consists of the following operators:

  • abstract
  • archivist
  • asset_name
    • This is the file name of the associated asset file (if any), and is used to link directly to an asset if the query match is a tag or transcript that has no other metadata at the item level
  • collection
  • creator
  • date
  • description
  • genre
  • repo_loc
    • This is the file name of the parent metadata file without the file extension, which is also its repository location (i.e., u0001_2008003_0000110)
  • subject
  • tag
  • title
  • transcript
  • type

Example Queries:

  • repo_loc: u0001_2008003_0000110
  • title:snow NOT quad
  • title:coal AND type:image AND (date:(1920 OR 1911))
  • title:snow AND type:image OR (date:February AND title:quad)

Parentheses are used to include a group of terms under each field. For instance,  “title:(January AND 14 AND 1832)” functions the same as “title:January AND title:14 AND title:1832”. Using Lucene query and Boolean operators together allows a user to quickly narrow a search down to very specific results. For further information on using Lucene query operators, please read the official Lucene query syntax documentation HERE.


There is also an alternative method of searching through Acumen that doesn’t use Acumen’s search engine at all. We provide sitemaps containing links to every item in Acumen, which Google in turn indexes; this makes Acumen searchable through Google! If you were to type “” into a Google Search engine, followed by whatever keywords you wanted to search for, then Google would search through its index of Acumen and return results matching your keywords. This is especially helpful if you want to do an image search, as you can easily hit Google’s “Images” tab during a search to see a visual list of photo results. Google also allows users to use Boolean Operators just like Acumen. Google’s search algorithms are different then Acumen’s search engine, so a Google search may produce different results.

Of course, all of these search methods are only tools for your toolbox, but if you get stuck trying to track down a particular Acumen file then having a few alternative search methods in your toolbox becomes quite handy. Happy searching!

-Austin Dixon, Digitization Technologist | Hoole Library

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