Library Research Methods
(Adapted from Thomas Mann, Library Research Models)
Keyword searches. 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. 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 Catalog as well as many other library databases.
Look for recent, scholarly books and articles. Within catalogs and databases, sort by the most recent date and look for books from scholarly presses and articles from scholarly journals. The more recent the source, the more up-to-date the references and citations.
Citation searches in scholarly sources. Track down references, footnotes, endnotes, citations, etc. within relevant readings. Search for specific books or journals in the library’s 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 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, etc.). People are often more willing to help than you might think. The people to start with are often professors with relevant knowledge or librarians.
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 (e.g., they might be checked out or in ReCAP), 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