Tips for Using the Library and Doing Research

All libraries are not the same. Most public libraries share the common philosophy of public service, but individual libraries can vary in services, collection scope and size, staff expertise, electronic resources, etc. The following guidelines may help you to know what to expect in using the library's services, enable you to more effectively use the library, and foster a positive experience in using the St. Clair County Library System.

Tips for using the Library

  • Come prepared. Bring your library card, money for copying or printing, note-taking supplies, etc. Your library card is necessary to check out materials and to sign up for Internet use and computer time for word processing.
  • Ask for help when you come to the library. The Reference staff may be able to clarify your information needs, assist you in using the best possible resources, and make referrals to other information sources. The staff can also assist you in using library tools such as the online catalog and online databases to locate materials and find information.
  • Give yourself plenty of time when doing research. A thorough search can be a multi-step process. Research often involves fine-tuning of what is it you're looking for, identifying appropriate resources and learning how to use them, browsing and evaluating the materials that you find, and possibly waiting for materials ordered through interlibrary loan.
  • Be prepared for change. The library in the Information Age is a dynamic environment! Information access and online databases are constantly changing. A source you used previously may have changed format or may look different since the last time you used the library. The physical environment of the library may also look different. The shelving arrangement of the materials is sometimes altered to make access to information easier.

Tips for doing research step-by-step

  • Familiarize yourself with the Library. Using the library is much easier if you understand the way libraries are organized.
    • Most print collections are divided into fiction (stories & novels) and nonfiction (true or factual information usually on a specific subject).
    • The nonfiction collection in public libraries is organized by the Dewey Decimal Classification, a system that organizes materials by subject area. It is helpful to use the library's catalog to find the Dewey call number for the subject you are researching.
    • Some nonfiction books are designated as Reference. These materials must remain in the library so that they are always readily available.
  • Find background information.
    • Start out by gathering information from general sources such as encyclopedias.
    • Use the Library's catalog or check with the Reference staff to see if the Library has a subject encyclopedia (i.e. McGraw-Hill encyclopedia of science & technology) on your topic.
      Encyclopedia Britannica an online version of the classic encyclopedia
      Grolier Online Reference Library In-Library Use Only includes three online encyclopedias
  • Search for books on your topic.
    • Use the Library's online catalog to locate books on your subject.
    • Use a keyword title search to find some relevant titles (i.e. key words low fat cooking will yield cookbooks with low fat recipes).
    • Go into the records, and find the actual subject heading. Redo your search using a subject search with the subject heading to refine your search and locate things you might have previously missed.
    • Check the copy status of the items to see if they are available.
  • Look for articles from newspaper, journals and magazines. The library has both online and print indexes to locate newspaper and magazine articles. Many articles are available in full text in the online databases.
  • Use the Internet to locate information. The Internet offers a vast amount of information. Unlike traditional resources, the Internet also offers interactive opportunities to communicate with other people.
  • Evaluate the information that you find. Evaluation of information is very important! This is particularly true of information found on the Internet.
    • Take into consideration the scope and comprehensiveness of the information. Consider the intended audience.
    • Identify the source of the information. Evaluate the reputation of the author.
    • Check on the timeliness of the information. How old is the information? Has it been updated recently?
      Library Instruction Round Table, Library Instruction Tutorials. This authoritative site contains links to "how to" sites for users of all ages to find and evaluate online resources.
  • Cite the sources that you use. If you are writing a paper, it is usually necessary to cite the sources you use. This is more complex as more forms of information have become available. Style guides now cover how to cite electronic and online sources of information too.
    The English Pages Online Citation Guides
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