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Library 101

1. Ten Basic Terms

We'll start with the most basic one of all: research. What's research?

It's looking for information on a topic that will help you prove a claim. What it's not is storytelling or personal reflections.

Here are some more.

Claim? The thing you're trying to prove, sometimes referred to as the "main claim."

Thesis? Another word for your main claimThesis Statement Checklist.

Thesis Statement? A formal version, usually one or two sentences, of your thesis.

Evidence? Anything that could be used to support your thesis statement.

Argument? Basically, your claim plus your evidence.

Data? A specific kind of evidence, often in the form of facts or statistics.

Sources? Articles or other kinds of information that you consult or cite in your final project.

Citing? This is what you do to avoid plagiarism and let your reader know where you found your sources.

Information Literacy? A set of competencies that involve finding, evaluating, and using information.

2. Scholarly Arguments

Scholarly arguments are different from regular arguments. They aren't just disagreements. Scholarly arguments are complex and generally focused on questions with many possible answers. What's important then is not that you "win" or "lose" a scholarly argument but that you make a persuasive case.

So how do you make a persuasive case? Well, you provide good enough evidence that a smart, reasonable, and skeptical reader will believe you're probably right. Finding information you can use as evidence is the objective of your research.

3. The Physical Library

Transcript of Physical Library

Even in our digital age, there are still things that you can only get in a library building, or what we're calling here the "physical library." Some items exist only in print or as physical objects. Not all books have been digitized, for example, and not all documentaries and instructional videos can be streamed.

It's often worth seeking out books and videos relevant to your topic because they can be a good source of general information. And early in your research process, before you've settled on a specific claim, general information is often what you'll find the most useful. You may benefit from reading a general-interest book, for example, or perhaps from watching a documentary you check out on DVD.

To find print and physical items, you will generally need to consult a helpful resource known as the library catalog. The library catalog used to consist of thousands of index cards, which were filed away in dozens of drawers. The cards and drawers are all gone now, of course, but library catalogs still exist, and they generally appear on your library's webpage.

Even if you start your research with Google, the library catalog can still be a valuable resource. If you find a reference to a useful-looking print book or video, typing the name of that book or video into the search box of the library catalog will tell you whether or not your library carries it. If it does, you will a see a "call number," which tells you where in the library you'll have to go to find it. Ask a librarian if you can't figure it out.

In cases where your library does not own or subscribe to a particular periodical, book, or video, you can still often get it through a program called interlibrary loan, or ILL. Traditionally, ILL has involved one library mailing print or other physical items to another. But increasingly, such transfers are handled electronically.

Another resource available in the physical library, of course, is the librarians themselves. While librarians are increasingly offering their services via text or chat, you may find face-to-face conversations even more helpful.

Librarians won't do your thinking for you, but they are well qualified to help you narrow down a topic, identify the resources likely to prove most helpful in your research, and use information selectively and strategically in support of a claim.

Notes from this video

There are still things that you can only get in a library building, or what we're calling here the physical library. Not all books have been digitized, for example, and not all documentaries and instructional videos can be streamed.

To find print and physical items, you will generally need to consult a helpful resource known as the library catalog.

When you use the library catalog for a physical object, you will a see a call number, which tells you where in the library you'll have to go to find it.

In cases where the library does not own or subscribe to a particular periodical, book, or video, you can still often get it through a program called interlibrary loan, or ILL.

Librarians are here to help!

 

4. The Digital Library and Open Web Searching

Transcript for the Digital Library

We are using the term "digital library" to describe all the library materials you can access outside the physical library. The digital library includes ebooks, streamable videos, thematically related sets of links called LibGuides, and subscription databases. A database is a collection of articles or other items that can be searched, and a subscription is the fee your library pays, usually annually, so you can use them.

In many cases, you can search everything your library owns or subscribes to by typing your search terms into a single search box, usually displayed prominently on the library website. This search box is part of what's often called a discovery tool. Discovery tools, which are very common in university libraries, are like Google for your library but without the ads and sponsored links.

Whether you access subscription databases through a discovery tool or directly, they are the place to go when you're far enough along in your research that you want fairly detailed information from scholarly and other appropriate sources. Examples of subscription databases include general reference databases like JSTOR or ProQuest Central and subject-specific ones like the business databases ABI/INFORM or Business Source Complete.

There are several benefits to using subscription databases.

One obvious benefit is free and easy access to publications you can't find on the open web and that would otherwise be quite expensive to access. Unless you have your own subscription to these publications, you can generally only read a few articles from the publisher’s website each month. But if you belong to a library that subscribes to a database that includes these publications, you can read current and back issues for free.

Another benefit of subscription databases is they are organized in a way that helps you find what you need. Even when you are dealing with a vast general reference database like ProQuest Central, you can limit your search on the basis of when the results were written, who wrote them, whether or not they have undergone a hugely important quality-control process called peer review, and many other useful criteria. Conducting focused searches in subscription databases will almost always give you more relevant results than you would get by simply Googling.

Still another benefit of subscription databases is that the results they return are more likely to be reliable. That's because the information included in subscription databases is vetted, meaning that qualified people make decisions about which publications should be added to them. This editorial oversight reduces the advertisements and other junk that can dominate the early pages of your Google results sets. There are no guarantees, but the information you find when searching in subscription databases tends to be fairly reliable.

Transcript for the Open Web

While you should certainly remain alert to opportunities for research in the world around you, it's likely that most of your research will take place on the open web and with resources you access, on-site or remotely, via your library.

Here's something you should understand about digital resources: the more expansive they are, the more precise your search queries will have to be to avoid getting overwhelmed by too many or irrelevant results.

So when you're searching for materials on the vast open web, it's best to avoid vague and general terms, like "terrorism." You'll get better results if you search for more specific terms, like "biological terrorism" and "domestic terrorism."

In general, it's a good idea to instruct your search engine to prioritize documents that contain all your search terms and relegate to the bottom (or even ignore) documents that contain only one or two of them. Google does this automatically. With other search engines, you may have to use what are known as Boolean operators. These are simple words like AND and OR, which tell the search engine how to interpret your request.

Say you're researching differences in the ways states handle various wild animal populations—for example, how Arizona manages bats versus how Louisiana handles alligators. If you want articles on both bats and alligators, you could search for [bats AND alligators]. Only results that contain both words should pop up. But you may find dozens of results about zoos and scary campfire stories before you'd find the articles about wildlife management you're interested in. You could add another term and search for ["wildlife management" AND bats AND alligators]. Now your results would return documents containing all three terms.

One more thing. See how we added quotes around the two-word term "wildlife management"? This instructs your search engine to only return documents containing the phrase "wildlife management" and not documents in which the word "wildlife" and the word "management" appear separately.

Notes from the videos

The open web refers to the information on the internet you can access for free and without a password. It's more or less the information you access when you Google something.

The term digital library is used to describe all the library materials you can access through the library's website. This includes eBooks, streaming videos, research guides for your class and/or discipline, and subscription databases.

A database is a collection of articles or other items that can be searched, and a subscription is the fee your library pays, usually annually, so you can use them.

A discovery tool like Everett Library's OneSearch allows you to search almost all library resources from one search box.

3 Benefits to Subscription Databases:

  1. You have free and easy access through Queens to publications you can't find on the open web.
  2. The sources within databases are more reliable than those you can find on the open web.
  3. Databases are organized in a way that helps you find what you need. You can limit by date, by author, by peer-reviewed articles, etc.

 

5. Steps to Success in Searching

Define - Locate - Evaluate & Select - Organize - Present - Yes/And

The Information Skills Process

Define your topic.

Locate some sources.

(You might need to go back and forth between these first three steps.)

Evaluate your sources and select the ones you want to use.

Organize your notes as you take them, proactively preventing plagiarism.

Present your paper or presentation.

Yes/And : How does this paper/presentation or the research you did contribute to your own personal Yes/And?