Chapter 4: Developing and Supporting Your Ideas
Accessing Information Through the Library
The library plays an important role for researchers, because materials in libraries have been selected for the information needs of their users. College and university libraries provide resources to support the academic programs of study at their institutions.
The Library Catalog
The library catalog is a good place to begin searching. Since it will allow you to search the library’s collection of books, periodicals, and media, you will have access to a lot of material that broadly covers your topic, and the information you find will help you as you work to narrow the scope of your research.
Many libraries have a unique or branded name for their catalog and pro- vide online search functionality. One helpful feature of the catalog’s search tool is the ability to sort and refine search results by date, format, author, and other filter options.
Additionally, library catalogs allow users to link to electronic books, videos, and other resources directly. These resources can be quite helpful, since users do not need to come to the library building, nor are these resources available only during library hours.
You’re already familiar with using search engines (like Google), but did you know that these tools only give you access to information that companies and people have shared for free? The content freely available online only represents a fraction of that which actually exists.
A lot of the information that isn’t free is protected by paywalls. You may have tried to read an article online, but weren’t able to see the full text because you were asked to pay. This can be frustrating when the content is useful for research! Fortunately, you have access to online databases through your library.
Library databases are available 24/7, and provide users with access to the full text of eBooks and articles from periodicals, works that are published on a regular, ongoing basis, such as magazines, academic journals, and newspapers. The content in library databases is available because libraries have paid to subscribe to the publications they offer. For the library user, this information is free—but you will have to search the library’s databases to access it.
Note that if you are trying to use library databases remotely (not via a wired connection to the library’s actual network), such as from home or on a business’s free Wi-Fi network, you will probably be asked to log in to verify that you are an authorized user of the library’s materials. Because the library has paid to access these subscription resources, they protect access by asking users to verify their status. Your library can help if you aren’t sure how to log in or experience difficulty when trying to do so.
While databases index newspapers and popular magazines, college-level researchers especially benefit from their inclusion of articles published in academic journals. Almost all content in academic journals is peer-re- viewed. The authors of journal articles are experts in their subject areas, and after having conducted research on their topic, write up the results in an article that they submit for publication to a scholarly journal (a periodical whose target audience is other experts in that disciplinary field).
Before the editor approves the publication of an article in their journal, they send it to other scholars who are experts in the subject area. The other scholars, peers of the original author, then read the articles and evaluate them according to the standards of that discipline. Only after an article has passed the peer review process can it be published in the academic journal.
Something you may have wondered is whether the terms “scholarly,” “peer-reviewed,” and “academic” have different meanings when used to describe articles or the journals in which they are published. The answer is no. These terms are used interchangeably.
Historically, academic journals were primarily available in print, but today most readers access them online. When looking at a search results page, it can be challenging to figure out which articles are from popular magazines and which are from scholarly journals. Fortunately, most databases have
a filter that lets you limit your results by publication type. As you continue to use the search function in databases, you will notice that it’s possible to put additional controls on the displayed results, allowing you to sort and refine.
Filtering your results is just one way to ensure that you find the information you need. Another option is to modify your search technique. The easiest way to do this is to put search phrases in quotation marks. If you’re looking for information about attention deficit disorder, using “attention deficit disorder” ensures that the three words stay together in the order
in which you have typed them. This can be very helpful to optimize the relevance of your search results. Without the quotation marks, the data- base will look for the words attention, deficit, and disorder. You can also combine search terms using Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT), try changing the search parameters, using truncation (to find similar words with the same root; typing medica* will give you results including medical, medically, medication, medications, etc.), or searching with subject headings.
You can control your search a great deal, even making it so specific that nothing will be found! For most research topics, however, a basic keyword search will take you far enough. It’s only when you aren’t finding what you need that you should consider adjusting your search strategy.
Other Library Resources and Services
A library’s online search tools allow you to search their extensive holdings. Know that you can (and should) ask for help if you have problems or questions. Remember that librarians are research experts and can help you to find information, select a topic, refine your search, cite your sources, and much more!