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7.4.1: Library Sources

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    Library stacks of booksHow Can Library Sources Help?

    Academic research papers usually require peer-reviewed sources, which provide some of the most reliable kinds of evidence. Library resources are usually the quickest way to find a wide variety of these types of sources. Books, DVDS, and various types of periodicals can be found in physical form at the library. Many of these same materials are available in electronic format in the form of ebooks, electronic journal articles, and streaming videos. Your college library may have some resources in both print and electronic formats while others may be available exclusively in one format. The following lists different types of resources available at college libraries. In addition to the resources noted, library holdings may include primary sources such as historical documents, letters, diaries, and images.

    • Reference works provide a summary of information about a particular topic. Almanacs, encyclopedias, atlases, medical reference books, and scientific abstracts are examples of reference works. In most cases, reference books may not be checked out of a library. Note that reference works are many steps removed from original primary sources and are often brief, so these should be used only as a starting point when you gather information.

    Examples: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2010; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

    • Nonfiction books provide in-depth coverage of a topic. Trade books, biographies, and how-to guides are usually written for a general audience. Scholarly books and scientific studies are usually written for an audience that has specialized knowledge of a topic.

    Examples: The Low-Carb Solution: A Slimmer You in 30 Days; Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins: Exploring the Relationship Between Macronutrient Ratios and Health Outcomes.

    • Periodicals are published at regular intervals—daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Newspapers, magazines, and academic journals are different kinds of periodicals. Some periodicals provide articles on subjects of general interest while others are more specialized.

    Examples: The New York Times; PC Magazine; JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association.

    • Government publications by federal, state, and local agencies publish information on a variety of topics. Government publications include reports, legislation, court documents, public records, statistics, studies, guides, programs, and forms.

    Examples: The Census 2000 Profile; The Business Relocation Package, published by the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

    • Business publications and publications by nonprofit organizations are designed to market a product, provide background about the organization, provide information on topics connected to the organization, or promote a cause. These publications include reports, newsletters, advertisements, manuals, brochures, and other print documents.

    Examples: a company’s instruction manual explaining how to use a specific software program; a news release published by the Sierra Club.

    • Documentaries are the moving-image equivalent of nonfiction books. They cover a range of topics and can be introductory or scholarly. Newsreels can be primary sources about then-current events. Feature-length programs or episodes of a series can be secondary sources about historical phenomena or life stories. You may view a documentary in a movie theater, on television, on an open website, or in a subscription-accessed database such as Films on Demand.

    Examples: Freedom Riders, directed by Stanley Nelson; Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

    As you gather information, strive for a balance of accessible, easy-to-read sources and more specialized, challenging sources. Relying solely on lightweight books and articles written for a general audience will drastically limit the range of useful, substantial information. However, restricting oneself to dense, scholarly works could make the research process overwhelming. An effective strategy for unfamiliar topics is to begin your reading with works written for the general public, and then move to more scholarly works as you learn more about your topic.

    Using Library Databases

    While library catalogs can help you locate print and electronic book-length sources, as well as some types of non-print holdings, such as CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks, the best way to locate shorter sources, such as articles in magazines, newspapers, and journals, is to search online databases accessible through a portal to which your college’s library subscribes. In many cases, the full texts of articles are available from these databases. In other instances, articles are indexed, meaning there is a summary and publication information about the article, but the full text is not immediately available in the database; instead, you may find the indexed article in a print periodical in your college’s library holdings, or you can submit an online request for an interlibrary loan, and a librarian will email a digitized copy of the article to you.

    When searching for sources using a password-protected portal, such as the EVC Library's online databases, it’s important to understand where and how to look up your topic. You can choose specific databases by going to “Databases A-Z” or “Databases by Subject.” Databases may be general, including many types of resources on a broad range of subjects, or they may be specialized, focusing on a particular format of resource or a specific subject area. The following list describes some commonly used indexes and databases accessible through libraries’ research portals.

    • Academic Search Complete includes articles on a wide variety of topics published in various forums, both scholarly and popular.
    • Opposing Viewpoints includes articles, statistics, and recommended websites related to a wide range of controversial issues.
    • CQ Researcher Online has full-text articles about issues in the news.
    • NexisUni has articles from newspapers and other periodicals, news transcripts, and business and legal information.
    • Business Source Elite comprises business-related content from magazines, journals, and trade publications.
    • Films on Demand has streaming video of documentaries and historic newsreels.
    • JSTOR includes full-text scholarly secondary sources, including books and articles, as well as primary sources on a wide variety of topics, mostly in the humanities and social sciences.
    • Literary Reference Center includes full-text print and electronic sources relevant to literature, such as biographies of authors, reviews of works, overviews of plots and characters, analyses of themes, and scholarly criticism.
    • Science in Context has full-text articles from journals in various scientific and technical fields.
    • MEDLINE contains articles in medicine and health.

    Sometimes you will know exactly which source you are looking for, for example, if your instructor or another writer references that source. Having the author (if available), title, and other information about the source included in an end-of-text citation will help you to find that source.


    Librarians are happy to provide library orientations tailored to your paper's requirements. A sample EVC library orientation is included on page 7.1 in Example 7.1.1.

    Definition: Peer Reviewed Sources
    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)