Getting Started

A picture of Summon

What is Summon?

Summon is the Library's most comprehensive search engine. Fast and powerful, it is a good starting point no matter what your topic. Use it to find information in any discipline and pretty much any format: journal articles, print and electronic books, dissertations, maps, CDs and DVDs and much more.

  • You can find Summon news, announcements, changes and service issues by checking out the Summon blog

Starting out

To search in Summon, start by choosing the 'general' tab above the large search box on the Library's home page. Think about the keywords that best describe your topic. These can include general concepts as well as the names of people, places or things. Enter them in the search box remembering to use quotation marks when looking for phrases and multi-word terms.

As you will see, one of Summon's strengths is the ability to return large numbers of results quickly. Sometimes it returns too many. The next section shows how easy it is to refine your results set by limiting your search to specific subjects, content types and date ranges.

Related Guides/Tutorials

Narrowing the Results

Too many hits

Summon searches most of the materials that UBC Library owns or licenses. This means that sometimes you'll get a very large results list. Don't worry - with just a few careful clicks you can narrow the list down. First: Look at the grey menu to the left of your results list. You'll notice a series of "limiters" that you can check off to reduce your results list.

narrow your results

Refine your search

Items with full-text online: If you click this box you will eliminate all results which are only available in a physical format such as print, cds, dvds, vhs, blu-ray etc. - but beware - many important resources are not available in an online format and you will not see them if you limit to online items.

Limit to scholarly articles including peer-review: This will remove all results which are not journal articles - so no print or electronic books or other formats will appear.

Newspapers: Notice that "Exclude Newspaper Articles" is already checked off for you - but be aware that if you edit a search without clicking the "keep search refinements" button beneath the search box - newspaper articles will appear in your subsequent results list.

  • Newspaper articles are great for researching current events, gauging public opinion, and finding first hand accounts of notable events (a type of primary source) - but are not considered a scholarly source. If you can't use them for your research, it's better to exclude them.

Items in the library catalog: You can also choose to limit your results to only items in the UBC Library catalogue (print and eBooks, print maps & atlases, cds & dvds, government publications, microforms, print musical scores). This means you won't see any newspaper or journal article results, book reviews, streaming music/video, or other material types which are not found in the Library catalogue.

Content Type

This box shows all the different types of materials which are in the results list. You can limit your results to just those material types that you click.

  • If you see a "more" link, this means there are even more to choose from than are showing on the page. Click "more" and you'll get a pop-up window that you can scroll through to see all your choices.

Subject Terms

The Subject Terms box lets you know what topic(s) each result covers. Click "more" to see them all. Click only the subject tags that express your topic closely. The more subjects you click the more results you'll have and vice versa.

  • This is a great way to remove irrelevant results.
  • The subject links are ordered by frequency, with the most common subjects at the top.

Date & Branch

Date & Location Limits

You can choose to see only materials which are housed at a specific Library branch. Note, only print books, musical scores, maps, cds & dvds have a branch location so this is a great way to remove all electronic materials from your list. This is especially useful if you are looking for a print book and do not want to see any e-book versions.

  • Online materials are "online" so if you limit to a branch you'll automatically eliminate all online journal articles and any eBook if we don't also have a print copy of it. In the case where we own a book in both electronic and print format you will find those eBook titles even if you've limited to a branch.
    standalone eBooks don't have a branch

If you choose a date range you'll limit your results to items published during that range.

Source Language

The "Language" box allows you to limit to one or more languages. The languages are ordered by frequency of results, but more languages may be available by clicking on "more..."
Language Limits in Summon Sml.jpg

Not all sources include original script / characters so try also searching with romanized keywords. While UBC Library and other library systems use Library of Congress Romanization, other sources may use different romanization schemes.

By Title or Author

If you know the title or author it may be easiest to enter this information into the Library catalogue. See the Books guide for more details.

If you do use the general Summon search you can still limit your results to make it easier to find a specific item. For example, if you are looking for a physical item, such as a book, map, musical score, cd/dvd etc you can limit your results to "items in the Library catalogue." This will eliminate most electronic resources.

Limit to items in the catalogue

Other tips:

  • Use quotes around phrases, titles, and author names. This ensures that you will only get results with those specific phrases, titles, names etc.
  • Limit to the appropriate content type. This helps eliminate results which are about the item you want.
  • For print items you may also want to limit to a specific Library branch. This will eliminate electronic versions from your results list.


For a quick introduction to searching in Summon check out this YouTube video:

To learn about Summon's advanced features check out this YouTube video: