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E. H. Butler Library, Buffalo State, The State University of New York

LIB100 - Introduction to Library Research Methods: Understanding Scholarly Sources

Overview of library collections and services to maximize research efficiency. Research strategies and tools, including the online library catalog, periodical and reference databases, and Web resources. Open to all students. Recommended for freshmen and so

Library Terms - Scholarly Sources

n your studies at Buffalo State you will be making use of academic literature to expand your understanding and support your research. This makes you a part of the research process. As such, you should be familiar with some terms. Once again we will be using the ODLIS dictionary for definitions.

Article - A self-contained nonfiction prose composition on a fairly narrow topic or subject, written by one or more authors and published under a separate title in a collection or periodical containing other works of the same form. The length of a periodical article is often a clue to the type of publication--magazine articles are generally less than five pages long; scholarly journal articles, longer than five pages. Also, journal articles often include a brief abstract of the content (click here to see an example). Periodical articles are indexed, usually by author and subject, in periodical indexes and abstracting services, known as bibliographic databases when available electronically. 

In this class we will be primarily working with articles published in academic or scholarly journals. This differs from articles created for magazines or newspapers though you may find those publications just as useful for your research. Articles in journals are written by academics for academics. The purpose of such an article in a scholarly journal is to record and present findings from research or possibly new interpretations or reviews of literature.

We have used the term journal and it too needs some explanation. 

Journal - A periodical devoted to disseminating original research and commentary on current developments in a specific discipline, subdiscipline, or field of study (example: Journal of Clinical Epidemiology), usually published in quarterlybimonthly, or monthly issues sold by subscription (click here to see an example). Journal articles are usually written by the person (or persons) who conducted the research. Longer than most magazine articles, they almost always include a bibliography or list of workcited at the end. In journals in the sciences and social sciences, an abstract usually precedes the text of the article, summarizing its content. Most scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. Scholars often use a current contents service to keep abreast of the journal literature in their fields of interest and specialization

Academic articles get published in journals with aggregate articles on similar topics. What is important from the definition above is:

  • vehicle for dissemination of research
  • written by the person who conducted the research
  • specific components - including an abstract and a works cited list
  • peer reviewed
  • used by scholars to keep abreast of their field and specialization

In the past libraries purchased print copies of these journals. Finding articles was accomplished with a system of title, author, and subject indexes. Finding relevant articles was time consumimg. Today,most journals have moved to an online format. The Butler library provides access to many thousands of different journals across every academic domain.

The main access to these journals is through journal aggregators like Ebsco who package groups of related journals as databases. Academic Search Complete is an example of such a database. Academic Search Complete is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades database but most have a theme. LexisNexis provide legal resources, American Chemistry Society journals focuses on emerging topics in chemistry and so on. Some databases don't contain articles at all. Early American imprints is a collections of publications and pamphlets from 1640 to 1820. Kanopy contains streaming video. Let's look at the ODLIS definition of databases:

Database - A large, regularly updatefile of digitized information (bibliographic records, abstracts, full-text documents, directory entries, images, statistics, etc.) related to a specific subject or field, consisting of records of uniform format organized for ease and speed of search and retrieval and managed with the aid of database management system (DBMS) software.

Most databases used in libraries are catalogs, periodical indexes, abstracting services, and full-text reference resources leased annually under licensing agreements that limit access to registered borrowers and library staff.

Here are some important points from the above definition:

  • Abstracts and full-text - not all databases provide access to the full-text of an article. Some, such as Web of Science, only provide a citation.Their purpose is to track how articles get used (cited) over time.
  • Use of a database management system - most databases use standard search options (keywords, boolean operators, etc)
  • database access is expensive. It costs libraries a great deal of money to provide access to our collection of databases. 
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