How to Use a Library for Effective Research

Libraries have, for the most part, done an excellent job of remaining relevant in an increasingly online world. Most institutions utilize online book catalogs, computer-based programs and e-books. Children still go to libraries to learn, and adults find them useful for work or entertainment. When doing research for anything from a book report to a doctoral thesis, the library is one of the most important tools at your disposal.

Why Choose a Library

For many, an online search engine has become the quick, easy way to gain access to information. However, an in-depth report is going to take more than a few clicks of a mouse.(Don’t feel intimidated, using outside sources for help such as teachers, private tutors and experienced people should also be considered.) Additionally, the online world can be a little cluttered, and you can end up spending half your time sorting through the relevant sources. Head to a local library instead, where pages and pages of information are at your immediate disposal.

Start Your Search

A good place to start your library search is to identify keywords related to your topic. Once you have written out your keywords, look in encyclopedias to gather background information. A library will likely have both online and hard-copy encyclopedias. You can also utilize bibliographies, which enumerate the books, articles and other sources used to research your topic.

There are several tools in a library you can use to find the information you need:

  • Catalogs: A book catalog – typically online via a library computer system – will generate books related to your topic as well as where in the library you can find them
  • Electronic Index: If a periodical article could be useful for your research, an electronic index can generate the items – sometimes even giving you the full-text versions on screen
  • Internet Searches: Many libraries are equipped with computers and software that can do targeted searches for the information you need in academic journals, books and other material

Evaluate Your Findings

Once you have collected a number of sources for your research, you should thoroughly vet them to ensure they are relevant to the work you are doing. For example, take a look at the author of the work and determine their credentials. If they are an expert on the topic, they have likely been cited in other works as well. Look for materials written by the people whose names keep popping up in bibliographies or as references in other sources.

Other ways to evaluate your sources:

  • Check the date of the work, as you want to ensure the source is up-to-date
  • If the source you have is a first edition, it means it has been revised or updated since publication
  • Look for primary sources of research as opposed to secondary, i.e. a “re-telling” of first-hand information

If you have a project you need to research, you should visit your local library. Know how to utilize the resources at the library like bibliographies and the catalogs that can point you to the right sources. Evaluate the information you find to ensure your sources are credible. A library is literally a building full of information – you just have to know how to find it.