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First Year Seminar - Search Strategies

Good researchers cannot limit themselves to only using online search boxes.

Classified Book Stacks

Q: Why bother with looking through the books stacks in the library when you have access to so much online?

A: Serendipity - "finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for"


In order to do "progressive refinement" you have to know in advance which exact words will produce the refinement you seek, and it is precisely that knowledge that we lack when we are moving around in unfamiliar subject areas.

-- Thomas Mann from The Oxford Guide to Library Research (4th ed.)

Things that simply are not included in databases

One of our databases has the full text for Time Magazine back to 1923, but it does not include everything - for example it leaves out all of the advertising.  Browsing though our bound volumes of Time Magazine from 1944 to look at advertising during the war can uncover lots of interesting themes and angles that could never be anticipated in advance.

Things that could be e-books or databases but aren't

An unbroken descriptive chronology of terrorists acts from 1968 though 2012 which is NOT available online.

Access to information that is sometimes faster and easier when it is in a print format.

Antonio Vivaldi wrote 530 concertos and sonatas.  Here they all are on our shelves.  No need to waste time searching or printing.

One-of-kind items

Twenty volumes documenting the cleanup of the nuclear waste dump 20 minutes from Morehead.  Maybe copies exists in the vaults at the EPA (and maybe not).

Primary Sources

A researcher MUST browse through the primary source material to be able to see what is there.

Primary sources housed in archives and manuscript collections (or even ones that have been digitized and are online) are often:

  • adequately indexed but better browsed than searched
    • Photogrammar - From 1935-1944, the Farm Security Administration — Office of War Information undertook the largest photography project ever sponsored by the federal government. The addition of several other collections stretches the coverage to 1946.
  • poorly indexed, or not indexed at all, or not arranged by subject
  • not online (being only described in finding aids)