- Find a list of articles on your topic using an index. Today we most often use databases as indexes to articles.
- Get your hands on the actual article.
You know the first step already. You find an article database that will work (check with librarians if you are unsure about which database to use). Then work your magic by typing in one of the search strategies you developed in sections 4, 5 and 6 above.
Here is the second step: getting your hands on the article. There are four places the article could be.
- It could be in full-text right there in the database you are using. You’re done.
- It could be in a print periodical (magazine, newspaper or journal) on your library’s shelf.
- It could be in another database owned by the library that you are using.
- If it is in the index or database, it exists somewhere. If it is not in 1-3, then you request your library to get it for you via Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Not all libraries offer this service, but there is probably one in the area that does. Alternatively, a librarian may be able to find it for you at another institution and even if your library can’t do ILL, you could have a little road trip to another institution for access. No library has everything. Even the great libraries at institutions such as Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard and Oxford have very active Interlibrary Loan departments because their researchers know that research is finding the answers to their questions, not simply using the information easily found.
How do you find an article if it is in paper on the shelf or in another database owned by your library (numbers 2 and 3 above)? Wake up for this part because there is a little twist in here that stumps some people. Remember that the library catalog lists what the library owns. This would include periodicals (magazines, newspapers and journals). Remember that the library catalog does not have articles listed in it. To find out if your library owns an article, type the title of the periodical into the catalog’s periodical holdings section and, if the periodical appears, check it to see if the library includes the dates of the periodical you need.
Another way of saying it is, if you have a citation for an article from any source (a known item search discussed in 6I), be it from your database search, your professor or a bibliography 1) Get to your library’s home page. 2) Look for something that says, “journal locator,” “journals,” “periodicals” (NOT articles) and click on that 3) type in the title of the periodical and, if it appears, check to be sure the date for the article you want is included. Often, the journal locator function will not be on the front page of your library website but rather in the library catalog as a tab. If the periodical title shows up, there will be information telling you if it is in one of the library’s databases or if it is on the shelf in print. If you cannot find it, ask a librarian.
If you have determined that the library owns the periodical containing the article you want in a database, go to the library’s database page, find that database and search for it. Because you have the citation to the article, you have plenty of information to find it. In an article database, you can now search by author(s), article title or just some unique words in the article title. (Remember, in the catalog you were searching by periodical title.) You can even use a date limit since you probably have the dates for the article as well.
If the library owns the periodical that contains the article you want in paper on the shelf, take the periodical titles and dates with you to the periodical section. If there is a call number in the catalog for the periodical, be sure and take that with you as well. Some libraries put their print periodicals in call number order, while others put them in alphabetical order by title.
These strategies will probably be sufficient to get you through the first years of college. Believe it or not, research has been going on long before databases were created. Not all good research will be found in databases. Not all of the information has been digitized or scanned. Back in the day, paper indexes, paper periodicals and microform were used for most everything. Larger institutions will embrace these for a long time yet. Depending on your field of study, you may find yourself in the paper or microform (fiche and film) as well. They work the same way as a database really in that you use a printed volume that holds a long list of articles organized by alphabetized topics. You then create a list of articles you want and go to the catalog to see if the library owns the periodicals they are in. Larger institutions will have bound several issues of a periodical together into “bound periodicals”. Some may be on microfiche or microfilm. If you are finding you need these older material, it would be time saving to check with a librarian until you get the hang of it.
We will find in the next section that searching the web is not what we do when we use a search engine like Google. Rather, we search a database of lists (Google has created) of links to websites. It is rather like searching a library’s catalog: you are not searching the books, but a database of a list of the books available via that library. Google is just another database with certain kinds of information in it: an extremely large database of information of varying quality.