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Library Research Strategies: Home

for searching library catalogs and databases

Checklist of Library Search Strategies

Selected search strategies for use in planning your library searches.

  1. Think about the disciplinary perspective(s) from which you want to find materials on your topic and make sure to search databases and library catalogs that are strong in those disciplines. For instance, a paper on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 can be approached from the perspectives of geography, the environment, history, politics, law, economics, and so on. In addition, a general overview covering all of these perspectives could be provided. Each approach can be researched using different databases.
  2. Make a list of types of materials you would like to find or search for and be sure to use databases, library catalogs, print finding aids, and/or archival finding aids that include or specialize in those materials.
    • Books
    • Articles in scholarly encyclopedias are a great place to start a research project. They provide an overview of a topic, cross-references, and a bibliography of the most important scholarly materials on that topic.
    • Review articles (to be distinguished from book reviews) can be very useful resources for serious research projects. They are written for specialists in the field. They review the literature on a topic and synthesize the results; thus, the bibliography is more extensive than that of an encyclopedia article.
    • Journal articles
    • Newspapers
    • Dissertations or Master's Theses
    • Government documents (federal, state, local, international)
    • Government records (federal, state, local, international)
    • Technical documents
    • Manuscripts
    • Maps
    • Media (DVDs, CD-ROMs, Video, etc.)
    • Websites
    • Conference papers
    • Working papers
    • Materials published in languages other than English or those translated into English
    • Statistics
    • etc.
  3. Take advantage of database trials currently available.
  4. Use iShare (books) and Illiad (articles and books not available via iShare) to request materials that Lovejoy Library does not hold.
  5. Visit a library nearby to use its print collection and/or electronic databases.

Search Strategies for Catalogs and Databases

Selected search strategies for use in library catalogs and databases.

  1. Keyword Searching. Conduct a keyword search in a database using either heuristically developed search terms or a list of carefully developed search terms, depending on the database and your needs. If permitted in the database, you may want to combine terms using Boolean AND, OR, or NOT. Find materials of interest and note the relevant subject headings, descriptors, topics, etc. for further use in Keyword Searching or in Subject Searching.
  2. Subject Searching. Subject search in a database. A good way to develop a list of terms to be used in Subject Searching is by Keyword Searching. If permitted in the database, you may want to combine terms using Boolean AND, OR, or NOT.
  3. Author Searching. Identify an author who has published in the area of interest. Conduct an author search to find other materials by that author. Also find the author's CV, which might contain obscure materials or materials not yet published.
  4. Footnote Chasing. Find a book or article of interest, then follow the footnotes. In so doing, one follows research backward in time. This can be done based on a print or on a full-text electronic version of the item. Some databases, e.g. SAGE Journals Online, ScienceDirect, Scopus, also provide a searchable bibliography of some articles. The freely available Google Books and Google Scholar also provide some bibliographies.
  5. Citation searching. Find a book or article of interest, then find the articles or books that cite it. This enables one to follow research forward in time. At Lovejoy Library, SAGE Journals Online, ScienceDirect, Scopus, etc. allow citation searching. This is also possible using other services providing full-text searching of documents such as the freely available Google Books and Google Scholar. Web of Knowledge, not available at Lovejoy but usually available at major research libraries, also provides citation searching.
  6. Browsing. Find a book of interest that is shelved using the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) scheme. (Alternatively, use the Library of Congress Subject Headings volumes to find a call number range corresponding to a given Library of Congress Subject Heading.) Go to the shelf where the book is located (or would be, were it on the shelf). Browse other materials near the book of interest. Repeat for other collections that are arranged using LCC, e.g. Book Collection, Reference Book Collection, etc. This strategy allows for serendipitous finds.
  7. Journal Run. Identify an important journal in the area of interest. Then browse through all volumes in the relevant years. As Bates notes, "this approach exploits Bradford's Law: the core journals in a subject area are going to have very high rates of relevant materials in that area".

Author Searching, Browsing (what she calls "Area Scanning"), Citation Searching, Footnote chasing, Journal Run, and Subject Searching are from Marcia J. Bates' classic article, "The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface." Online Review 13 (October 1989): 407-424.