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Searching for Signs of Spring: Pruning Search Results

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As it usually does this time of year, my California born-and-bred spirit has me already looking for signs of spring (the novelty of winter going only so far). And where better place to turn for a little spring — especially when nature won’t oblige — than the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog?

But the results that greet my search for the word “spring” cause me to marvel anew at how looking for pictures makes one aware of the malleability of the English language. Glancing at the first entries in my more than 14,850 results reminds me that “spring” and “springs” are represented in place names just as prolifically as the bodies of water likely were in the areas where people built, sketched, and photographed.

Screen shot of catalog search results showing more than 14,000 results
Results for Prints & Photographs Online Catalog search for the word “spring.”

How to focus on actual depictions of spring, the season?  Well, sticking with that word, I tried whittling down my search results, using various catalog search techniques that work well in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

In an effort to bring in useful variations on a search term, the catalog search will generally return records with the term in singular and plural forms (“spring” and “springs”).  Since I’m not thinking I’ll find many satisfying images showing multiple spring seasons, I can focus on the singular form of the word by using the “Advanced” search feature: No variants.

Screen shot showing where to find the Advanced Search link in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog
Selecting the “Advanced” link will display menu options that allow you to refine your search.
Screen shot of search results, showing use of no variants menu
Search for “spring” using Advanced menu option of “No variants”

That cuts my results down to just over 8,650 descriptions. But I’m still seeing a lot of listings for architectural drawings (as indicated by the call number beginning with ADE) and materials from this Historic American Buildings Survey (as indicated by the call number beginning with HABS).  I can set those results aside by using “NOT” in my search to say what I don’t want to see in the results:

Screen shot showing search words spring NOT ADE NOT HABS
Search using “NOT” to exclude records with ADE or HABS in the description.

Now I’m at just over 4,600 results.

Since I’m looking for images to satisfy my craving for spring while using my computer at home, I can focus my results on those that expand beyond the thumbnail size version of the image no matter where I’m viewing from, avoiding those that, because of rights considerations, will only display larger when I’m inside Library of Congress buildings. Selecting the “Larger image available anywhere” filter yields some 3,800 images. I can already tell that some watery springs are mixed into the results, but by switching to the “gallery” or “grid” view, I can take in large swaths of images pretty quickly — and enjoy quite a tour of the world, as well! (If I get inspired to share one of my finds more widely, I’d need to look more closely at the full description of the image, to make sure that it has a rights advisory that mentions no known restrictions; some images will display larger anywhere but have restrictions on particular types of uses.)

Screen shot showing Larger images filter box and Gallery and Grid viewing selections
Results of a search for “spring” with no variants, excluding HABS and ADE from the results, and where one can select to view “Larger images available anywhere” and to view pictures first in the “Gallery” or “Grid” view.
Screen shot showing search results in Gallery view -images 5 to a line with titles
Search results in Gallery view
Screen shot showing search results in grid display--many images on the page, no captions.
Search results in Grid view — more images per page, no titles (select the image to see the title and full description).

Now, the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog “Advanced” search options do include the capability to focus the search on a particular field or set of fields. Selecting “subject fields” looks for the search term only in the subject headings catalogers assigned after analyzing what the picture is of or about. So another way to prune my results would have been to search for “spring” in subject fields.

Screen shot showing use of the Advanced Search subject fields menu
Focusing through Advanced Search searching only subject fields.

Our Thesaurus for Graphic Materials, which lists topical subject headings that are used in our cataloging, is integrated into the catalog. I checked to make sure that “spring” is one of our index terms, and, handily, I can simply select to launch the search from the thesaurus.

Thesaurus for Graphic materials graphic and search blank
Searching spring in Prints & Photographs Online Catalog Thesaurus for Graphic Materials search.
Screen shot showing Thesaurus for Graphic Materials term information and links
Thesaurus for Graphic Materials record for “Spring,” with link to search for that subject heading in the rest of the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Why didn’t I do the subject fields search first? I know from experience that not all of our catalog records have subject headings at the same level of detail, so I opted to search for “spring” used anywhere in the record (title, notes, subject headings), rather than narrow down to subject fields and potentially cut out interesting results. (Doing that keyword anywhere search also allowed me to specify words/call numbers from anywhere in the description that I did NOT want in my search results.) As I explored those keyword results, however, I was pretty consistently finding “spring” somewhere in the subject headings applied to the pictures I liked (though, regrettably, it did cut out some humorous references to spring chickens…).

Screen shot showing catalog desription with Subject index term Spring
Catalog record with subject headings that include “Spring.”

Focusing on images indexed with the subject of “Spring” (no variants) that offer larger images displaying anywhere (just under 800 search results), I’m still getting a lot of spring-watered locations, because “spring” sometimes turns up in proper name subject headings for the place an image was taken. But, while admiring many a hot spring, mineral spring, silver and cold spring, I was also gratified by some signs of spring past and nearly-present. And if you have gotten this far in the blog post, you deserve to see some of them, too!

The colors of this poster immediately caught my eyes.

Poster showing woman in profile wearing green, pink blossomed trees in the background.
Spring. Poster by Penrhyn Stanlaws, 1907.

Though not as colorful, Clarence White’s photograph conveys spring’s new growth through the burgeoning blossoms and even the woman’s floral dress.

Photo showing woman wearing a long floral dress reaching for a branch with blossoms.
Spring. A triptych (Letitia Felix), Newark, Ohio. Photo by Clarence White, 1898.

This illustration drawing conveys some of the mood of release that often accompanies spring.

Male figure appearing to dance while gazing and young woman.
He danced, he sang: hail spring divine! : ethereal spring h’m — wine? -pine -shine? Drawing by Oliver Herford, 1911?

Bringing me back to earth, this print reminds me that spring sometimes heralds a new round of chores, including some most of us never face anymore.

Men standing in clearing surrounded by leafless trees, smoke behind them.
Spring. No. 2. Burning fallen trees in a girdled clearing–Western scene. Aquatint by W.J. Bennett from original painting by G. Harvey, 1841.

Doesn’t this lithograph convey well that in spring all things can seem new?

Woman standing over a small child in a green field.
“In May” – illustration for “Baby’s Lullaby Book … by Charles Stuart Pratt.” Chromolithograph by L. Prang & Co., 1888.

And among the “new” in spring – spring fashions!

E. Butterick & Co.’s quarterly report of New York fashions, for spring 1874. Chromolithograph, copyrighted 1874.

I can practically feel the sunshine reflected in this sea of yellow spring flowers.

A field of green with yellow flowers and a track down the middle, cows in the distance.
Rural Alabama in the spring. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2010 April 18.

And who can forget the pleasures (at least for the fans) of spring training?

Catcher, back to the viewer, facing pitcher throwing a ball, stands in the background.
Pitcher Yency Almonte warms up with catcher Tom Murphy prior to a spring training major league baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields stadium in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2018 March 25.

Reviewing the sheer variety of images and making note of the collections to which those that particularly appealed to me belong helped me identify where I might focus my search the next time I’m yearning for spring. I might start on the collection search pages for the Popular Graphic Arts or the Carol M. Highsmith collections, for instance.  (Or, if I want to see how the built environment relates to places with “spring” in their names, I might circle back to the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey and the Architecture, Design & Engineering collections.)

Naturally, each searching expedition suggests ways to expand the search, as well as to narrow it. What particular signs of spring might I look for in the future? Terms such as flowers, blossoms, gardens, and names of the spring months… the possibilities bloom as profusely as plants in spring.

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  1. What a refreshing post! I also learned very useful search strategies along the way. Thank you!

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