Model Library Research Strategy

  1. Read background information on your subquestion(s)/topic in one or more special, as opposed to general, encyclopedias. Refer to the Guide to Reference Books (available in the reference room) to learn what special encyclopedias and other pertinent reference tools exist for your research.

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  3. Compile a list of relevant vocabulary for your research by consulting the Library of Congress Subject Headings (available at the reference desk). Keep a running list of subject headings as you work.

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  5. Search Princeton's Main Catalog, which contains records for the majority of the Library's holdings for specific sources listed at the end of the encyclopedia articles you have read. Write down the complete call number for each book you wish to use. Maintain a list of all the call numbers you identify so that you can browse pertinent areas of the collection.

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  7. Use a unified catalog, such as RLIN or OCLC's WorldCat, that combines records from many libraries, using the same subject headings you have found to be best in step 2. This will help you identify sources which Princeton may not have but which you can request via interlibrary loan (provided you have sufficient time to wait for material from another library, often two weeks or more).

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  9. Begin systematic browsing of the shelves under all the call numbers you have established in step 3. Examine the tables of contents, indexes, and bibliographies of books that are located adjacent to ones you know are relevant. Do not overlook books in languages you do not read; they may give you important leads to sources you would want to know about. Keep careful track of the complete citation for any source that appears useful so you will have all the details ready for your own bibliography.

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  11. Attempt to find a review article or published bibliography on your topic. Use Bibliographic Index (in the reference room), starting with the most recent year and going backwards, and consult with a reference librarian for other approaches.

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  13. Use relevant indexes to identify specific articles on your topic in both scholarly and popular publications, including newspapers. Confer with a reference librarian about which indexes, both electronic and printed, are best for your needs. If the index provides citations to articles, rather than the full text as many now do, you should print out, download, e-mail, or write down the complete information for each item. Be sure to expand journal title abbreviations to their full form; there are reference books which can help if the abbreviation is not obvious.

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  15. Return to the Main Catalog to find call numbers for additional books you have identified via footnotes and bibliography entries and to determine if Princeton subscribes to the periodicals or newspapers for which you now have article citations. Track these down and continue to identify still more relevant sources provided by those books and articles.

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  17. Toward the end of the research phase of your project, consider using the massive Web of Science database to identify recent scholarly articles that have made use of key sources you already know about. This is an extremely powerful and complex electronic resource, so please ask a reference librarian to demonstrate it for you.

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  19. Lastly, browse the most current issues of periodicals that have turned up most frequently in your research to date. The Web of Science can help you discover new scholarly sources.
Mary W. George
General and Humanities Reference Division
Princeton University Library
Fall 1999