When to Use the Library
Any research that you do will consist of using two types of sources:
Primary: Published and unpublished materials that can include (but aren't limited to) public records (birth certificates, deeds), research notes, first-hand anecdotal observations (oral history or personal diaries), and so forth.
Secondary: Published works such as almanacs, books, directories, encyclopedias, and so forth.
Secondary sources are the easiest to track down, and therefore less costly — both in money and in time. Because of their ready availability, these materials are most helpful during your preliminary project-planning stage, when you need to read more generalized information to gain a better overall grasp of the subject. Such general information helps you isolate the options as to which specialized direction your project can take. It shows you what is already known about your topic, what aspects have been covered by others and in what ways, as well as other details you'll need to ascertain before you can truly establish your focus. (Remember: It's your focus that lets you find your voice for your writing project and prevents you from simply rehashing something that's already been done.)
One method of obtaining primary source material is to go directly to the source and interview someone. Whether you need anecdotal information or verification of facts from an expert, many aspects of conducting such an interview are the same. See Chapter 8 for more information.
Libraries are the best means for locating secondary sources. As you'll soon learn, starting your research at a library doesn't necessarily mean you have to physically make a trip there. Many libraries now have their catalogs online, so you can see which books are available on the shelves and through interlibrary loan. More and more of the information that was once only available in those reference books not available to be checked out of the library is now making its way into online archives. Often the best information of this type is only available through expensive subscription databases, but even that doesn't mean you must pay those high subscriptions fees yourself. Many libraries let you access those services through their Web sites.
The types of resources available to you on-site will depend on the type of library you use: an academic library at a large university, a public library in a large (or small) community, a high school library, or a specialized library.
Printed materials available at the library include the following:
Nonfiction books (including textbooks and reference books)
Periodicals (popular, trade, and scholarly magazines and journals)
There are also magazine and other subscription databases that you can access on your home computer, such as:
Biographies Illustrated: H. W. Wilson's collection of more than 100,000 biographies from over fifty reference titles, thousands of biographical magazine articles, with over 32,000 printable images. Searches can be done by name, profession, ethnic background, place of birth, and more. Literary criticism articles are also accessible from the author's biography.
Discoverer: Interactive general reference database that consists of full-text articles constructed from more than 1,200 magazines, newspapers, and U.S. government documents. This online resource is geared for the younger (K — 8 reading level) researcher.
EBSCOhost Databases: Provides access to academic journals, magazines, newspapers, and books and monographs, that include the Academic Search Premier, Alt Health Watch, Business Source Premier, Computer Source, Eric (the Educational Resource Information Center), Health Source: Nursing & Academic, MAS Ultra — School Edition, MEDLINE, Middle Search Plus, Newspaper Source, Primary Search, Professional Development Collection, Psychology & Behavioral Science Collection, Regional Business News, Religion and Philosophy Collection, Sociological Collection, and Vocational and Career Collection databases, plus these databases:
MasterFILE Premier: Updated daily, this multidisciplinary database provides full text for more than 1,730 general reference publications with full text information dating as far back as 1975, 500 full text reference books, 84,774 biographies, 100,554 primary source documents, and an image collection of 235,186 photos, maps, and flags.
Newspaper Source: Selected full text for twenty-five national (U.S.) and international newspapers and full-text television and radio news transcripts, and selected full text for more than 260 regional (U.S.) newspapers.
Primary Search: Another database primarily geared for children, this one includes
Encyclopedia of Animals; World Almanac for Kids; Funk and Wagnall's New Encyclopedia; a compilation of essential documents in American history; and collections of pictures, maps, and flags. Includes the full text for nearly seventy popular magazines for elementary school research, each of which are assigned a reading level indicator (Lexiles). Full-text information dates as far back as 1990.
Middle Search Plus: A daily updated database for older elementary students that includes Primary Search and adds full-text articles from over 140 K — 12 magazines, full text of fifty-two reference books, and over 5,000 book reviews, with full-text backfiles dating to 1990. Middle Search Plus also contains 84,774 biographies; 100,554 primary source documents; and an image collection of 235,186 photos, maps, and flags.
Funk & Wagnalls
: This database provides over 25,000 encyclopedic entries covering a variety of subject areas. New World Encyclopedia
TOPICsearch from EBSCO: Current events database of social, political, and economic issues, scientific discoveries, and other popular topics. TOPICsearch contains full text for over 139,800 articles from more than 4,800 diverse sources.
Whether you limit your searches to the subscription services available from your library or search databases on the World Wide Web, you'll encounter selections that are stored as:
Full or complete text
Index and abstract
Representation or summary
Once you're ready to find more information, pick up the book you've found most informative about your topic thus far and check out the bibliography. Those are the books the author found most helpful; chances are some of them will aid in your research, too.
One advantage of being at the library in person is that you can walk up to an actual reference librarian and ask for help; however, because most libraries also now post the e-mail addresses for reference librarians on their Web sites, you can ask questions even if you're accessing the library from your home computer. You simply write out your question and submit it by e-mail. The answer won't be an immediate one, but what you lose in speed you gain in the convenience with which the reply can be copied and pasted directly into your notes.