Writing and Research
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Let me begin as simply and clearly as I can:
Because different libraries serve different users. We are lucky in Nebraska, in that our communities tend to support their public libraries quite well. And our high schools have a tendency to have solid libraries too. But these are PUBLIC and HIGH SCHOOL libraries, designed and maintained to support the general public and high school students. In order to do academic/professional level research, it is important to find a library that supports academic and professional level users. Academic and professional libraries buy different materials, as they are designed to be much more in depth and specific in the material they purchase and the research that they support. You may be able to find some of the same material at a high school or public library, but it will be a relatively small percentage.
First of all, academic/professional libraries are going to subscribe to academic and professional journals that non-academic libraries will not. The Grand Island Public Library doesn’t have enough users to justify buying College English or The American Journal of Psychology or Holistic Nursing, but an academic/professional library does. So, in terms of the periodicals(magazines) that are physically present in the library, there is a significant difference.
Most students today prefer to find periodical articles using periodical databases on the computer. Do remember, however that when you do so, you do not always get the whole article pictures, graphs, charts and page numbers are often missing. It’s always preferable to use the original printed article when you have access to it. Many library periodical databases will tell you when your local library has that periodical in their collection.
Many periodical databases are only available if you are physically present in the library. The publishers of those databases do not allow remote access. In those cases, you have to be in the library to use those research tools. Distance Learning students taking classes from the Grand Island campus can use the form located at http://www.cccneb.edu/studsvcs/library/libraryg/page/RequestForms/Loan.htm to request a database search, but it isn’t the same as seeing the list and making the choices yourself.
Some database publishers do allow for remote access. To get a list of the logins and passwords currently available to CCC students, email your instructor at email@example.com to request the information.
When most people think of information in the library, they think of books (even though libraries have many more forms of information). So obviously, the primary way that a library will help you find books is by the collection that is actually IN the library. Academic and professional libraries buy books from academic and professional publishers that are much more specialized (and expensive) than what you will find in non-academic libraries.
The primary way to find out what books are available on a topic is to use the card catalog. Today’s card catalogs are actually computer databases rather than collections of cards, and that makes them much more searchable and potentially usable than before. The card catalog for the CCC library at College Park is found online.
Students using this card catalog can find what books on a topic are available in the Grand Island campus library. Ignore the boxes asking for User ID or PIN number they are not required by the CCC library (our card catalog is shared by several different libraries). Once you have found a book that you would like to use, you can either check it out if you are at the library, or you can request that it be sent to you if you are a Distance Learning student (the link is at the bottom of the page). You can also send an email to the librarian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another technique is to use Amazon.com. Remember that until you give them credit card information, you haven’t actually bought anything at Amazon. But you CAN take advantage of their wonderful search, their huge selection, and the review information that they give you to determine if it’s a usable text or not. Once you’ve found books that look good on Amazon, of course you can buy them if you wish, but you can also take down the publication information (title, author, publisher, ISBN number) given on the Amazon results page. Then use the Interlibrary Loan request form to have the library see if they can find it for you at another library.
This doesn’t always work, especially for the newest books, but it works often enough to keep it in your research toolbox.
Most libraries keep a special collection called the vertical file. Basically, it’s a file cabinet filled with pamphlets, brochures, handouts and newspaper clippings from reputable sources. These articles are then filed in file folders by subject. So if you are researching the recent Drought, the vertical file folder will include many of the most recent newspaper articles and other publications about the subject.
The real advantage to the vertical file is threefold:
- it is an easy way to get a sense of the local connections to a topic (if there are any).
- it is an easy way to get a sense of the overall scope of the topic and begin to see ways to narrow the focus, if that is necessary.
- since almost nobody uses the vertical file, it’s an easy way to have access to information that isn’t being overused by everyone else.
But you have to physically be IN the library to use the vertical file.
The Librarian. Never forget that librarians are information specialists. Just as you go to the doctor or a lawyer for professional medical or legal information instead of just relying on Uncle Fred’s advice, so should you go to the information professionals instead of relying on Uncle Fred’s website.
First of all, they know the collection. They can point you to the best information much more quickly than you can find it yourself.
Second, they know the classes and the instructors. I hear the librarians at CCC regularly helping students pick their sources based on what types of information are preferred by which instructors.
Third, they have almost assuredly helped other people research the same or similar topics and can help you learn from other people’s past experiences.
Remember that it is almost impossible to do an adequate job of academic/professional research without utilizing the resources available specifically in an academic/professional library.