Library Research Methods
(Adapted from Thomas Mann, Library Research Models)
- Keyword searches in online and print sources. Search relevant keywords in catalogs, indexes, search engines, and full-text resources. Useful both to narrow a search to the specific subject heading and to find sources not captured under a relevant subject heading. To search a database effectively, start with a Keyword search, find relevant records, and then find relevant Subject Headings. In search engines, include many keywords to narrow the search and carefully evaluate what you find.
- Subject searches in online and print sources. Subject Headings (sometimes called Descriptors) are specific terms or phrases used consistently by online or print indexes to describe what a book or journal article is about. This is true of the Library’s Online Catalog as well as Proquest or the Reader’s Guide or other indexes. For example, in the online catalog, DIVORCE and CHILDREN OF DIVORCED PARENTS are different subject headings with different books under them. If you want the latter and find the specific subject heading, you’ll save time finding the most relevant resources. DIVORCE as a Keyword in the Online Catalog will pick up both topics above, but also about 1300 other catalog records with the word “divorce” in them.
- Citation searches in printed sources. Track down footnotes, endnotes, and citations in relevant readings. Search for specific books or journals in the Library’s Online Catalog. This technique helps you become part of the scholarly conversation on a particular topic.
- Searches through published bibliographies (including sets of footnotes in relevant subject documents). Published bibliographies on particular subjects (Shakespeare, alcoholism, etc.) often list sources missed through other kinds of searches. BIBLIOGRAPHY is a subject heading in the Online Catalog, so a Guided Search with BIBLIOGRAPHY as a Subject and your topic as a keyword will help you find these.
- Searches through people sources (whether by verbal contact, e-mail, electronic bulletin board, letters, etc.). People are often more willing to help than you might think. The people to start with are often Reference Librarians at the Reference Desks in the Library.
- Systematic browsing, especially of full-text sources arranged in predictable subject groupings. Libraries organize books by subject, with similar books shelved together. Browsing the stacks is a good way to find similar books; however, in large libraries, some books are not in the main stacks, so use the catalog as well.
The advantages of trying all these research methods are that:
- Each of these ways of searching is applicable in any subject area
- None of them is confined exclusively to English-language sources
- Each has both strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages
- The weaknesses within any one method are balanced by the strengths of the others
- The strength of each is precisely that it is capable of turning up information or knowledge records that cannot be found efficiently—or often even at all—by any of the others