Research Tips – Things to Remember When Doing Library Research

“Grand Study Hall, New York Public Library”, by Alex Proimos,  CC By-NC 2.0

1. When you’re searching an online catalog or a database, be aware of the subject terms listed on entries you think may be relevant to your question/topic. In most systems, these are links that will help you either broaden or narrow your search.

2. When you go to the shelf to find that perfect thing and it ends up being not-so-perfect, look around  – in both the Dewey and Library of Congress systems, similar items are shelved together. Just because the item corresponding to the call number you wrote down on a small scrap of paper with a golf pencil didn’t pan out, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a diamond lurking in one of the books near it. For many SCA topics, you can find a chapter or section of a book on a larger topic that is relevant to your specific research need.

3. Don’t forget databases! These tools are wonderful treasure troves of information that cost your library a pretty penny – and cost you NOTHING. Search them! The History Reference Center and MasterFILE Premier (both by EBSCO) are decent resources.  If your library gives you access to JSTOR or ArtStor, consider yourself very lucky – these resources are amazing (especially ArtStor – you can see if your institution [or one near you that will give you privileges] has access by looking here. If there is a university near you listed, don’t hesitate to go visit – you may not be able to access remotely, but you should be able to get on using a computer at the library. Seriously. ArtStor is awesome. I miss having access to it.).

4. Despite what Cecil tells you, librarians aren’t that dangerous. We like helping people. Make use of your librarian! For some SCA stuff, you may have to be patient – your friendly neighborhood reference librarian is probably used to helping a few undergrads but mostly high school and younger researchers find stuff. Be very specific, and don’t worry about scaring them. They aren’t like the fabric store people who ask “what are you making?” just to make small talk – the more you tell them, the better help they can give.

5. Use Worldcat – it will show you everything that OCLC (basically this massive library records conglomerate thing) has records for – and they have records for pretty much everything.  You can create a free account and make lists. You can see a list of resources I’ve made on period fools/jesters here: [x] It’s a great way to keep all your resources in one spot (esp. when it comes time to write your bibliography).

6. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask librarians. Ask me. Ask the hiveminds of Facebook and Tumblr. Even if someone doesn’t know the answer or can’t point you to a resource, nine times out of ten they can point you to someone who can. That’s one thing that the SCA does really, really well. We connect people who are interested about X with other people who are also interested about X.

7. When I take notes, I write down exact quotes, followed by a brief citation (usually in Google Drive or Evernote). This is based on a practice instilled in me by Mrs. Thistle, my 10th grade English teacher, and strengthed by Mrs. Utley, my 12th grade English teacher. Only they had us use notecards. Anyway, even if it isn’t the exact format of the citation you’ll use when you write up your documentation (whether you do APA, MLA, or footnotes), it will help you in terms of remembering where you got that information. By doing an exact quote in your notes, it will also help you paraphrase when you actually write and avoid accidentally plagiarizing.

I could probably write more, but I’ll stop for now.

Happy Researching!