How search engines and library catalogs work

You know how to use a search engine. Decide what keywords you want to search and type them into the search box. Then see if the results returned the information you expected. Do you know how to use a library catalog? Even though you will probably see a single search box like a search engine’s, if you expect it to work the same way you will be frustrated. That single search box is not the only way to search the catalog. It’s not even the best way. If you see a link to “advanced search,” click on it. Once you … Continue reading

Reference books and sets you must read in print

In my last post, about editing, I cited my father’s entry in Contemporary Authors, a still-growing set with more than 200 printed volumes. I couldn’t find the photocopy I made several years ago when I first stumbled across it. I found an online version in WorldCat, but it’s available only at 8 libraries, none within 500 miles of my home. I had to go to a local library to consult the print version. How many other important reference works are available¬†only in print? … Continue reading

Something old and something new in a recent research project

I concede: Real research can be done using only web sources. Just not much. Since this month is Earth Month, I want to look back at the first Earth Day in 1970 for one of my other blogs. Can I find enough information on the web to write something about it? Sure. And I’d produce a post every bit as disappointing as an online article I wrote about last fall, which appears to have started out as an undergraduate honors paper. So I had to use some very old research methods. Along the way, I found a new piece of … Continue reading

Roots: digging for your family tree at the library

When I lived in the Chicago area, the Newberry Library was one of my favorite places. I occasionally had occasion to cross paths with “the cemetery lady,” a researcher who knew more about cemeteries than just about anyone else in the area. And why shouldn’t she hang around the Newberry? It has one of the best genealogy collections in the country. If you’re serious about tracing your family tree, be prepared to learn a lot about cemeteries. And the best place to start learning about them, or anything about your ancestors, is at the library. Your local library does not … Continue reading

How to use online library databases

A library catalog is a database as opposed to a search engine. Libraries offer many other databases for research besides the catalog. (Everyone does research, by the way, even though not everyone writes about the results.) In some ways you use them the same way you use the catalog, but there are important differences. I will illustrate using an online library database called Academic Search Complete. Academic Search Complete, like all databases, is organized by fields. That is, a complete record will contain separate fields for such things as author, title, subject, journal title, various standard numbers, etc.You can limit … Continue reading