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A Guide to Database and Catalog Searching: How to Do Academic Library Research

How to access and search library databases and catalog

In general...

One way to begin an assignment, especially on a topic you aren't familiar with, is to see what materials are available in the library and what original approach you might take. If you have a Louisiana topic, check with the Cammie G. Henry Research Center staff to see about collections with which you might work.

Interlibrary loan to obtain most of your articles. This is especially true in the sciences because most articles are not going to be available full-text in the databases.

Be wary of the open internet, which is often unedited or otherwise evaluated.

If you are having problems developing a topic, searching the databases, or finding information, seek help from your professor or a librarian. Individual Research Consultations are available for more in-depth help; ask a librarian or use the request form in the "Learning the Library" LibGuide.

Good research is not a quick process. It takes time to think about a topic, locate articles, books, etc., Don't even consider waiting until the last day to research and write your paper.

Journals (also called "Periodicals" or "Serials")

Definitions:

Periodicals or Serials are magazines, journals, or newspapers that are published at set periods--weekly, monthly, quarterly etc. and are published in a series.

Journals are serials which contain scholarly, academic, peer-reviewed articles. Scholarly articles are based on deep study of a subject, event, or text. "Peer-reviewed" means that articles are evaluated by the author's peers (similar educational level and experts in the subject) to judge quality, trustworthiness, and lack of bias.

Magazines are written for the general public with an average reading and attention level.

Trade Journals are specifically for a business, occupation, or career. They are less strictly peer-reviewed but still include editorial oversight.

Getting Started

    The research process is similar to thinking and writing; these are processes which produce unique results even though the basics of the processes are similar. Follow the steps below, though you may need to repeat some steps or even go in a different order. Use what you already know about reading, writing, and the internet to work on a research project.

Choose a Topic, or Focus an  Assigned Topic. Research has several purposes: to answer a question, find a solution, develop an extended definition, show a cause/effect relationship, or compare/contrast several similar things. If you can choose your own topic, an interesting one may keep you from growing bored with the assignment  Most college-level research  is done to develop a main idea or thesis statement (except for literature reviews, which do collect and briefly summarize or classify what has already been written).

Create a Search Strategy. What kinds of material already exists about your subject? Depending on the scope and audience for your project, you may need a variety of books, journal articles, reports, conference papers,and statistics.

Locate Materials. Explore resources in this library--books, journals, databases, reference resources, and the librarians. Google and Google Scholar may have some, but be careful with those open internet search engines. For items not in the library's collections, use Interlibrary Loan. Keep a list of these items (a tentative bibliography), which may lengthen or shorten as you work through your project.

Evaluate the Sources. Read your material as you think about your topic and write your draft. about  the material you have found: Is it on your topic? Is it too simple? too complex? Is the author an authority in the field? Is it biased? Is it timely? Who published it? Why was it published? Can you verify the information in other sources? Again, don't blindly accept everything, especially if it's on the open internet.

 

Drafting and Revising. Writing is a process, as well as an end product. As you work on a draft, you may not use every source you found in your research. Or you may want more.

A paper has an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction is sometimes the hardest part to write and many scholars write it last. Make an outline--even a simple one. This is your road map.  Don't be discouraged if you need to go back and do additional research, if new questions occur to you or you discover holes in your research or even if you change your mind about your main idea. This is all part of the recursive writing process.

 

Cite All Sources. That means everything you used in your paper that you found from every external source. Where you use the ideas or words of others in your own work, give their creators credit (in the text, in notes, bibliography, references, works cited, etc.).  Your contribution is how you use those ideas to develop your paper or project.

Humanities

Most of the databases for the humanities are listed under the categories: Art, Music, and Humanities, Biography, History, Literature, Language, and Linguistics.

In the area of history, the library has access to a number of  full-text historical documents: African American Historical Serials Collection, African American Newspapers 1827-1998, America's Historical Newspapers-Louisiana State Package, Civil War Primary Source Documents, European Views of the Americas: 1493-1750, and History Periodicals Collection 1866-1877.

Some databases fall under all categories:

Academic Search Complete: a multi-disciplinary database indexing more than 8,500 full-text periodicals including 7,300 scholarly titles.

Biography in Context: useful in locating authors, artists, philosophers, historians, etc.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: online reference books covering a variety of subject areas.

JSTOR (Journal Storage): an archive of scholarly journals, most of which are full-text. Note that some titles are not covered to the current issues.

Project Muse: A collection of books and articles on various topics. Note: not all are available full text.

Worldcat: is an international and national bibliography of books, Internet resources, archival collections, etc. Note: items held by Northwestern State University libraries are highlighted.

Sciences

Most of the resources for the sciences fall under the following database categories: Computers, Nursing and Allied Health, and Science and Technology. Be prepared to use Interlibrary Loan because the number of full-text science articles is considerably less than in humanities and social sciences.

Some databases fall under all categories:

Academic Search Complete: a multi-disciplinary database indexing more than 8,500 full-text periodicals including 7,300 scholarly titles.

Biography in Context: useful in locating scientists.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: online reference books covering a variety of subject areas.

JSTOR (Journal Storage): an archive of scholarly journals, most of which are full-text. Note that some titles are not covered to the current issues.

Social sciences

Social Sciences contain the largest number of disciplines. Under Database Directory, the categories include: Business, Criminal Justice, Education, Law and Legal, Political Science, Psychology, Reference and Library Science, and Social Work and Sociology. 

Some additional databases include:

Academic Search Complete: a multi-disciplinary database indexing more than 8,500 full-text periodicals including 7,300 scholarly titles.

Biography in Context: useful in locating authors, scholars, etc.

Gale Virtual Reference Library: online reference books covering a variety of subject areas.

JSTOR (Journal Storage): an archive of scholarly journals, most of which are full-text. Note that some titles are not covered to the current issues.

Project Muse: A collection of books and articles on various topics. Note: not all are available full text.

Worldcat: is an international and national bibliography of books, Internet resources, archival collections, etc. Note: items held by Northwestern State University libraries are highlighted.