What Gets Searched

This section explains what gets searched when you type keywords in the search box. It does not cover Advanced Search which works differently because it searches specific fields.


To understand what gets searched, you need to understand these terms.

Public and non-Public Items
A public item is one that anyone can see. In contrast, only a logged-in Digital Archive user can see non-public items. Most items in a collection are public, but an archivist may choose to make some items non-public because the item is being worked on and not yet ready for public viewing, or because the organization does not have permission to share the item.
Public and Private Metadata Fields
Each of an item's metadata fields are designated as either public or private. A public field is one that anyone can see in a public item. A private field is one that only a logged-in Digital Archive user can see. The text of a PDF file attachment is considered public if attached to a public item and private if attached to a non-public item.
Visible Items and Fields
Which items and fields get searched depends on whether or not the user is allowed to see them. A search performed by a logged-in user will search all items and all fields. A search performed by someone who is not logged-in will search only the public fields of public items. Put another way, all items and fields are visible to a logged-in user, but only public fields of public items are visible to a user who is not logged-in.
Searching All Sites

The Digital Archive lets you search one site or all sites. An All Sites search only searches the public fields of public items. This is true whether or not you are logged-in as an archivist. If an archivist needs to search their organization's non-public items and private fields, they must switch to searching This Site and be logged-in.

What a keyword search finds

When you type keywords in the search box, the Digital Archive examines:

  • Every item in the collection that is visible to the user
  • The metadata of every one of an item's fields that is visible to the user
  • The text of a visible item's PDF file attachments (the PDF itself must be searchable)

If the keywords exist in one or more of the item's visible metadata fields, that item will show up as a search result. The words do not need to all exist together in the same field unless they have been enclosed in double quotes as a phrase.


The searching logic assigns a score to each item that results from a keyword search. The higher the score, the more relevant the result. Higher scoring items appear in the search results above lower scoring items.

When the searched-for keywords appear in the item's Title, that item's score is increased because the Title field is most relevant for search purposes. The score is also increased, for hits in the Description field, though not as much as for the Title field. To help users find items, archivists should pay attention to putting keywords in the Title and Description fields.

Hits in items that are of type Reference also have their score increased because reference items tend to have the most relevant information. Also, they are often related to other items. When a user views a reference item that was returned as a search result, they'll also see all the other items that it is related to.

You can see the score for each item's score when all of the following are true:

Scores only appear in results for keyword searches because that's the only kind of search where the relevance of one result can be higher or lower than for another. In contrast, if you search using the Refine Your Search panel, or if you use Advanced Search to look for items having a value in a specific field, every result will have equal relevance because every result will satisfy the same search criteria.

Scoring is performed by Elasticsearch using the Lucene scoring formula. It works well most of the time, but does not guarantee that the result with the highest score will be what you are looking for.

Fuzzy searching

Sometimes the search results will contain items that have metadata that contains words that are very similar to, but not exactly the same as, the words you type. This is called fuzzy searching. While this can sometimes produce unwanted results, it's very helpful when you mistype a word or when you don't know the correct spelling.