Getting Essential Information from Print Sources Help (page 2)
Getting Essential Information from Print Sources
Now you have your writing tools and equipment ready. You also have a library card or access to an academic or cultural institution. In addition, you have narrowed down your topic to make it as specific as possible. You are ready to begin your search for information and materials. This is the most fun and exciting part of the process! Rather than just thinking about your paper, you are now an active participant in the research process. You will become a detective, piece together and track down various types of information, follow your leads, and question as many individuals as you can. This lesson will focus on different institutions that you can utilize, the diverse printed resources available, and how to make the most of them.
Before you walk into your favorite library, sit down and make a list of five possible places where you might find as much information about your topic as you can. For example, if you are researching the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, five possible places to visit might be:
- A neighborhood public library or city public library
- A local university or college
- A historical library or specific historical collection
- A cultural institution devoted to American history topics
- A museum or gallery with an American history collection
This list allows you to obtain information from more than one source and ensures that the information you gather will be diverse and in a variety of different forms. Some institutions may be more helpful than others and offer you more materials, but having many options is valuable.
Navigating a Library
Libraries are often crowded and librarians may seem to be too busy to help you in your personal search. While it is true that librarians may seem busy, they are usually more than delighted to assist you in any way they can. Remember, they are the experts about treasured library collections and materials! Even though you can roam the shelves for yourself, librarians have access to and know about books and other materials that may be behind the desk. It always pays to ask a librarian for help before you begin to search on your own. As you learned to do in the previous chapter, explain your topic as specifically as you can to the librarian. Make sure that you provide the librarian with the topic (the who or what of your paper), the years you are researching (the when of your paper), the geographic location (the where of your paper), and what you are proving with your writing (the why of your paper). This will allow the librarian to guide you to the most useful and valuable sources.
Understanding Printed Sources
Printed material generally includes books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, or excerpts of essays—in other words, any written material on your topic. These printed materials are usually grouped into two categories:
- primary sources
- secondary sources
The first category is printed primary source material. All primary source materials are firsthand accounts of circumstances by individuals who are directly involved or have experienced what they are writing about firsthand. Unique primary sources—often overlooked—include personal diaries from a particular time period, physical, geographical, or topographical maps, official documents (such as a census or other collections of statistics), paintings, prints, and photographs of particular areas you are researching. Although you may not typically think of consulting such diverse sources, these sources are often the most valuable for your work.
The other category of printed materials is known as secondary sources. These include books, magazine articles, or pamphlets by authors who have already collected materials and written about events after they have occurred, or from a perspective that is not immediate or firsthand. Common secondary sources that are extremely helpful to consult include:
- reference books, such as comprehensive or particular subject encyclopedias
- compendiums of various kinds, such as biographical histories of individuals
- a collected history of ideas or world philosophies
- a Reader's Guide to current and past periodicals and printed articles
- other compiled indexes according to subject matter, thesauruses and atlases.
Often, the range and scope of reference materials that most libraries or institutions have on hand is extremely broad and fascinating. With these tools, it is possible to research just about any topic in existence if you know where to look. Below is a helpful chart that illustrates some of the printed materials available to you at almost all libraries. This chart provides a handy jumping off point to begin collecting your data.
Odds are that you will find more than enough materials for your needs as you use this chart for a guide. The nice thing about visiting libraries or unique institutions is that you get to see many rare, old, and invaluable materials that have not been scanned into the Internet or are not available on the Web. Even if these materials are difficult to locate or you cannot borrow them, it is important to see them so that you are as informed as possible about your topic. By visiting many libraries, you will often discover sources that others have overlooked.
Many different types of institutions will have information available to you. Make sure that you utilize and visit as many of these places as possible because the more places you visit, the more rich and diverse your information will be. Always remember to consult a librarian or other professional to assist you in your personal search.
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