Quick Tips:

Many people look at a library catalog, database, or search engine and think they can type in a few words and the resources they need will miraculously appear. Unfortunately, online resources are not always that easy to use. Library catalogs, for example, use controlled vocabularies, usually the Library of Congress' (LCSH). This means that if you type in "fabric," for example, and the proper term is actually "cloth," you may not find what you're looking for.

Tip 1: Patience. If you don't find what you're looking for immediately, try some other keywords with similar meanings. A thesaurus is always a good tool to have around. Also, write down the words you've used so you don't waste your time.

For now let's stick to library catalogs.

If you find a book by an author you like, you can search for other books by that author. For example, Stanley Chapman is an expert on the English Cotton Industry. If you were interested in this subject, you might try looking for other books by him.

Title searches are another useful tool but are usually only helpful if you have a specific book in mind. Even then, you sometimes have to be careful. If you are certain that your book is in the catalog but you can't find it, check the spelling or eliminate first words like "the, a, an."

I have always felt that subject heading searches are the most helpful. Subject headings can help you find books that are similar to one another in scope and content. For example, if you are interested in textiles, specifically the woollen industry, you could start with a keyword search for "wool." (In general, keyword searches are the best way to look for books if you're starting from scratch.) I did this search in the University of Illinois' catalog and found the book The Tweedmakers: A History of the Scottish Fancy Woollen Industry, 1600-1914 by Clifford Gulvin. Suppose for a minute that this is precisely what I was looking for and I want more books on this topic. Should I go through the long list the catalog gave me in my keyword search or use the subject headings on the Tweedmakers' catalog page? I would look at the subject headings listed. In the University of Illinois' page, it says:

These three subject headings are all linked into the catalog, which means that if I click on any one of these items, I will get back books on similar subjects. For example, there are two books with the same subject headings of "Wool Industry-Scotland".

Tip 2: Don't be afraid of subject headings. Once you find one book that you think is useful, follow the subject heading links on each catalog page you find until you have a list of interesting books to get at the library or through interlibrary loan. (There are subject headings on WorldCat, too, which we will talk about later.)

Unfortunately library catalogs aren't fool proof. Even with subject heading searches, you may miss important works on your topic. Therefore, go to the library armed with your list of books and their call numbers. When you go to grab your book off the shelf, don't just look at the book you got from the catalog, look at all the books around it. There may be some important works you missed.

Tip 3: Browse the shelves.

Once you have started your research and have narrowed down your topic, look at the bibliographies in your favorite books. (Favorite being the ones that are the most useful and accurate.) A good, academic work should have a bibliography. There are exceptions, but on the whole this is the case. The bibliography will tell you what books the author used for his/her research. Read the ones on your subject.

Tip 4: Don't be afraid of the bibliography. It may lead you to some real treasures.

Libraries don't have everything and sometimes you have to look outside your library to find books you want. There are two resources that will be useful to you: WorldCat and I-Share. You can find these resources by going to your library's homepage and going to the "quick links" pull down menu. WorldCat is exactly what its title suggests. It's a World Catalog. If your library doesn't have a book, you can search for the book in WorldCat's catalog and find out who has the book. You can also usually request the book through interlibrary loan. I-Share is, in many ways, a smaller version of WorldCat. It limits your search to books in Illinois. If a book is available in Illinois, it would probably be a better idea to request the book from I-Share. The book will probably reach you much sooner.

Tip 5: Don't wait until the last minute. Interlibrary loan (ILL) takes time.

Your professor has probably already told you that you can't limit your research to one medium, i.e. books, articles, or websites. Good research has a mixture of books and articles. (Use websites with caution.)

There are number of good databases to use when finding articles.

I noticed that Ames library has done a number of things to make your catalog searching easier. On their homepage under "Resources" they have listed "Find Articles and Subject Guides." You can search by "subject" in the pull down menu.

I was a history geek so I went to history. I then clicked "Find Articles" and found a list of Resources, one of which is Jstor.

Jstor may well become your closest and dearest friend. It's usually a few years out of date, but it has articles on a variety of different subjects from numerous journals and periodicals. Unfortunately, like a friend, Jstor will frequently drive you crazy. They changed their search bar a while back, and it's now much harder to use. Be patient and you'll likely find what you want. (Jstor is a database, by the way, in case you want to search for it in the database listing.)

Since all libraries are different, the best thing to do would be to explore the list of databases and journals at your library, narrowing them by subject if possible. This will give you a good idea of what search tools to use. In some libraries, there are too many. Ames' list looks manageable, though.

Tip 6: Don't be afraid of librarians. They're actually nice. And they really do know what they're talking about. Send your librarian an e-mail or give him/her a call to make an appointment. They'd be happy to help you find what you're looking for. And no, you won't look stupid if you ask a librarian for help. Actually, you'll look smarter than everyone else because you'll find what you're looking for that much sooner.

The Internet:

The internet is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it does make information more widely available, but let me be frank, most of it is crap. (If you hear someone muttering right now, it's probably my mom in the back of your classroom reminding herself to call me to tell me to eliminate the word "crap".) Anyone can put anything on the internet, particularly things that aren't accurate. This is not to say the internet doesn't have its uses, but it won't get you a good grade on an academic paper.

Be wary of internet resources. If there is an .edu at the end of the URL, the site is probably safe. You can also look to see if it's a museum. They're probably safe, too. But even then, use the information sparingly in your paper. Really, the internet will be more useful to you in determining what topics interest you and what you should do more research about. It should not be the source of most of your information.

Tip 7: The Internet...use it with extreme caution.

List of useful resources:

  1. Your librarian
  2. Your library catalog
  3. WorldCat (found under quick links)
  4. I-Share (also found under quick links)
  5. Jstor (found under find articles and subject guides)
  6. Use the Find Articles and Subject Guides to narrow your search by topic, i.e. history, chemistry, sociology & anthropology, etc.

If you feel you must use the internet for your research, might I suggest google.com or vivisimo.com.

You're probably all familiar with google but have you ever heard of Google Book? Publishers and libraries have provided google with a variety of information on books, kind of like a google library catalog. Google Book will lead you to anything from full texts of books to bibliographic information and citations on books that may interest you. I don't have much experience with it but thought I'd mention it in case you're interested. I've heard good things.

Vivismo.com is one of my absolute favorite internet tools. It is a search engine like google, but it clusters your search results. For example, if I type in the search term "textile," instead of getting a long list of materials that are put in no discernable order, vivisimo groups the results by topic. In a side bar, my "textile" search produced: textile and apparel, textile manufacturers, design, cotton, museum, textile institute, printing, textile machinery, carpets, and textile arts. If I am only interested in textile machinery, I can click on that link and get only the websites that relate to that subject. Vivisimo doesn't return as many results as google, but it will certainly save you some time.

If you want information or tips on anything else, tell Dr. Anderson-Freed. As my mom, she can usually con me into helping her out with that kind of stuff. I'd be happy to post answers to your questions here.

Created by Jenny Freed, 9-22-06
c. Jenny Freed