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Summon Frequently Asked Questions

What is Summon?

Summon is a search engine that provides credible, relevance ranked results from the library’s online and print collections in a single search.

It searches through a massive collection of books, scholarly journals, newspaper articles, e-books, theses and dissertations, conference proceedings, and numerous academic databases. It contains everything found in the traditional QCAT Library Catalogue, plus much online full-text content available from the Library.

Consider doing a Summon search when you might otherwise search Google Scholar, the QCAT Library Catalogue, or a research database like JSTOR.  Summon is not intended to entirely replace these other search tools, but we hope that it will be a much-valued addition to your research toolkit.

Summon, QCAT and Article collection overlap

Diagram: Information that can be found in Queen's University Library's Summon Search.

Summon is a software service licensed by Queen's University Library.  Summon product description from Serials Solutions.

How does Summon compare to the QCAT Library Catalogue?

The QCAT Library Catalogue is the main inventory of books, journal titles (print and online), media, and other documents held in the Queen’s University Library collection.   It contains over 2.3 million records.

Summon is a search engine that searches every record in QCAT, plus 100+ million scholarly articles and online records.  It was implemented in 2010.

Summon excels at quick keyword searches (what does the library have on this topic?) and lookups ("does the library own this?").

QCAT provides more control over which field you are searching (journal title, series title, call number), which is useful for some searches.


Summon QCAT Library Catalogue
  • Searches articles — contains 100+ million journal and newspaper articles
  • Relevance ranking of search results
  • “Did you mean?” suggestions for spelling errors and typos
  • Scholarly article limit — limit to articles from scholarly publications, including peer-review
  • Online full-text limit — limit results to items immediately available online ("Limit to items with full text online")
  • Use various "refine your search" filters to refine results

Summon and QCAT:

  • Search by title, author or keyword
  • Support boolean search — AND, OR, NOT, "phrase search"
  • Limit by library location, language
  • Search and sort by publication date

How does Summon compare to Google Scholar?

Summon and Google Scholar are both search engines that let you quickly search across a massive index of scholarly information.

Summon and Google Scholar search different bodies of scholarly content. There is overlap, but there is content findable in Summon but not Google Scholar, and vice-versa.  The two search engines perform relevance ranking in very different ways.

Some features unique to Summon:

  • Results are reflective of the Queen's University Library collection — as a library patron, you have access to mostly everything you can find in Summon.
  • Find print/physical material in the Library collection — Summon contains all our Library Catalogue records and can be used for finding print material and media in the library.
  • Useful search refinements:
    • “Items with full text online”
    • “Limit to articles from scholarly publications, including peer-review”
    • “Items in a specific library location (Stauffer Library, Education Library, etc.)”
  • Saved Items — email, print, cite, export to EndNote/BibTex

Some features unique to Google Scholar:

  • “Cited by” information — e.g. “Cited by 402 publications"
  • Google Books content

What's in Summon? What's not in Summon?

Summon contains a massive collection of books, scholarly journal articles, newspaper articles, e-books, theses and dissertations, conference proceedings, and numerous academic databases. It contains everything found in the traditional QCAT Library Catalogue, plus information usually found in research databases.

Summon may index some or all of the databases and journals you already use. Some databases and journals have full-text indexing, others are indexed just by citation information (e.g., title, author, abstract, etc.).

As of January 2010, Summon provides some article-level indexing of 88% of our journal titles (a number that will increase over time).

Full list of Summon Content Publishers (external link)

I can't find [an article, book, resource] in Summon. Where can I find it?

Can’t find a book in Summon? Try:

Can’t find an article in Summon? Try:

  • Using an “exact phrase” search on the article title to narrow your results (example)
  • Some articles are not findable in Summon (it does not provide 100% coverage of our journal collection). 
    • To do a thorough article search: look up the journal title and determine if the Library subscribes to the journal. Then browse by year/issue to find the right article.

Can't find a journal in Summon?  Try:

Also see:

  • How to Find - recommended search tools for all content formats (music, statistics and data, patents, etc.)

Does it look like the Library doesn’t own the item?

I click a full-text article/ebook and get "This item is not available online." How do I get to the full-text?

There are many different reasons why you might see the "This item is not available online" message:

  • There is an error in the citation.
  • There is no full-text version of the item available online.
  • Queen's Library does not have a subscription to the online version of the journal in question.
  • In the case of a very recent article, the text may not yet be loaded on the publisher's website.

Here are some alternate paths to the full-text:

  • Click the "Check for a print copy" link to see whether the Library has an alternate copy (print, microform, or even a different electronic version).
  • For articles: do a journal title search to see if the Library has a subscription to the source journal/newspaper/magazine.
  • For ebooks: do a new search in the QCAT Library Catalogue.
  • If it looks like the Library doesn't own the item, order a copy ($3.00) via interlibrary loan.
  • Contact Us

More information: About Get It @ Queen's.

When I do a search in Summon, I get many results. How to I refine my search to find exactly what I'm looking for?

Searches in Summon often yield an overwhelmingly large number of results.  Here are some mechanisms for doing precise searching in Summon:

A) Try Phrase Searching

Summon allows for phrase searching with the use of “ ”. The query “teacher education” will find results with that phrase.

B) Try the Advanced Search

You can perform Author and Title searches from the advanced search screen.

C) Search Specific Fields

You can explicitly search a field using the syntax: “field:(query).” For example, the search ISSN:(1752-0894), finds records that contain that value in the ISSN field.

Searchable fields:

  • Title
  • SubjectTerms
  • Author
  • Publisher
  • PublicationTitle
  • Volume
  • Issue
  • Language
  • Notes
  • ISBN
  • ISSN
  • DOI

4) Refine Your Search

Use the "Refine Your Search" options on the left-hand side to limit by Content Type, Subject, Publication Date, Library Location, Language, and more.

TIP: If you limit your results to "Book", you'll see some extra refinements (Author, Genre).

Does Summon search everything in that's in a specific research database (JSTOR, Web of Science, MEDLINE, ERIC)?

Summon doesn’t index databases, it directly indexes publications (specific journals, newspapers and other serials). That publication data can come from any number of places: direct from the publisher, or from an intermediate database.

That said, we don’t know exactly what the overlap is between Summon’s content and the content found in specialized research databases (JSTOR, Web of Science, Medline, ERIC). In some cases it might be close to 100%, in others, 50-75%.

How do I tell if a journal is indexed by Summon?

You can quickly check to see if a journal’s articles are being indexed by Summon; here's how:

  1. Go to Summon Advanced Search
  2. Search “From this publication” for the publication name (e.g. “Journal of Endocrinology”).  
  3. Click Search.  For the Journal of Endocrinology, we can see that there are 17,000+ articles being indexed by Summon. 

How does Summon's relevance ranking work?

Summon's sophisticated relevance ranking algorithm is a 'trade secret' of the software developers, so we are unable to explain exactly how it works.  However, it gives priority to "exact title" matches on your search keywords. 

For instance: a search for "practical grammar" will return items with the exact title "practical grammar" at the top.  A search for "the practical grammar" will return almost identical results, but with priority given to titles with "the" in them.

Will Summon change over time?

Summon is an example of “software as a service”; the Library has a license with Serials Solutions to provide the Summon index for our Library’s collection. In this sense, it is more similar to our various article databases (e.g. Web of Science) than it is to the QCAT Library Catalogue system (a locally-hosted software system that experiences major but infrequent upgrades).

The Summon software is relatively new (first deployed in 2009); it is expected to change and improve every few months as new features are implemented and new content is added.  The developers are committed to an agile software development model.  Development of the Summon software is supported by an international team and is informed by the needs of academic library patrons at Queen's and beyond.

Why did the Library implement Summon?

Our decision to use Summon was driven in large part by user feedback indicating the need for a search tool that is able to go beyond the contents of the QCAT Library Catalogue and include scholarly articles as well.

The Library’s QCAT catalogue contains approximately 2.3 million records representing books, journal titles and other documents in our collection, but it does not include journal articles. To find journal articles on a particular topic, Queen’s users previously had to search a number of specialized research databases.

Summon provides us with a search tool that allows users to search every record in QCAT as well as over 100 million scholarly articles in a single interface. It is the first tool of its kind that meets the needs of researchers at Queen’s.

Where are the search tools (Find Books, Find Articles) that used to be on the library homepage?

In Summer 2010 the Library implemented a new search system (Summon), upgraded the QCAT Library Catalogue, and changed our library homepage. 

On the pre-Summer 2010 library homepage, we had 2 major search areas:

“Find Books”

"Find Articles"

  • Quick Search: Scholars Portal Search is available under Articles -> “Other Multi-Subject Search Tools”
  • By Subject: Articles -> "Recommended article databases and indexes for your subject"
  • Databases: a "Databases" tab is still readily available on the library homepage.
  • Journals: a "Journal Titles" tab is still readily available on the library homepage.

How do I report problems with Summon?

We’d like to hear about your experiences using Summon (technical glitches, suggestions).  We have two feedback options:

  1. Click “Feedback” at the top of any Summon page.
    Your message will be received by Queen’s Library Systems staff and the Summon software development team
  2. Send a Question or Suggestion to the Library
    Your message will be received by Queen’s Library staff

You can send feedback anonymously, or provide your email address if you’d appreciate a reply.

Last Updated: 03 September 2010