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Prof. Kiss - ENG 101 - Spring 2019: Top Ten Tips for Library Research (Second 5)

6. Give BOOKS a chance

"Browse the stacks" in your subject area.

Searching the library catalog or Multisearch tool for Books/E-Books and getting the exact call number and location is almost always the most efficient way to find books on your topic or books by a particular author, and browsing the shelves is a great way to get familiar with the scope of a subject area.

Authors who get a book contract are usually "tested" experts in a field. Publishers trust them. However, books can be more out of date than articles. 

Our books are organized using the Library of Congress Classification system.  The letters don't correspond to anything, they are more or less randomly assigned, for example:

Books on education are in the L section. Business is in the HB-HG section. Politics is J.  Materials in the sciences and mathematics are in the Q section.  Health Sciences are in the R section. Engineering is in the T section.

How do you know which subjects correspond to which letters? Check this list:

7. Consider the PURPOSE of your Selected Source


  • Audience
  • Commercial Purpose
  • Potential Bias
  • Scope
  • Frequency of Publication

Each of these sources has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Newspapers:  Written for general readers on a wide variety of topics. 
Example: Newspaper article reporting local pollution event, including interviews with residents.
Magazines: Also for current topics, written for general readers with no background in the subject. Example: Longer, in depth article about a pollutant or pollution event for a general audience. 
Academic Journals: Longer research reports by specialists, written for other specialists. Can be quite technical. (Also called Scholarly / Peer Reviewed / Professional Journals). Example: Research article examining the detrimental health effects of overexposure to lead.
Books: Much longer and in-depth than articles from newspapers, journals and magazines.Can be written for the non-specialist or specialist. Due to publishing time, will probably not cover recent events. Some may be collections of individual articles. Example: Book on importance of access to clean drinking water.
Regulations: Regulations, legislation, rules, standards and advisories from health or other government organizations will give you an idea of what are currently considered acceptable levels of exposure, limits on discharge, handling and disposal requirements, projected goals and other regulatory policies. Example: Recommended thresholds for exposure to lead by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statistics: Data of how much, how many, how often provided in clear charts. Often produced by government organizations. When you find a number quoted in an article, see if you can find the original source. Example: U.S. greenhouse emissions by gas (1990-2105) from the EPA. 

Primary vs Secondary Sources

When evaluating the quality of the information you are using, it is useful to identify if you are using a Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.

Source Type Examples


A primary source is a first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. This original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.

  • First person account of an event
  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Original artwork
  • Novel (fiction) or film
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights


A secondary source is one step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information that is conveyed in the primary source.


  • Journal article reporting on a scientific study
  • Newspaper and Magazine articles
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Critique of a work of fiction or film
  • Biography


A tertiary source is further removed from primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.

  • Indexes and Bibliography
  • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
  • Library catalog
  • Most textbooks
  • Guidebooks

8. Use a Variety of Approaches and Interfaces

Allow time. Don't be content with the results of one search! 

Search a database that covers many subjects (e.g., Academic Search Premier or Scholar OneSearch) as well as a subject-specialized database (e.g., Communication and Mass Media Complete for communications, MLA Bibliography for literature).

The same search phrase entered in two different databases may bring up very different results. If your topic encompasses more than one major subject area-business and art, for example- try searching both a business database and an art database. Ask at the reference desk for our recommendations.

Try different phrases; try the same search across multiple databases. 


The following keyword searches may be helpful as a starting place for your research.

[your topic] and psychological aspects
[your topic] and political aspects
[your topic] and religious aspects
[your topic] and personal narratives
[your topic] and public opinion
[your topic] and (laws or regulations)
[your topic] and statistical data
[your topic] and social policy
[your topic] and interviews
[your topic] and crimes against
[your topic] and health aspects

9. Don't discount non full-text databases, Google Scholar, etc.

Don't avoid using a database just because it doesn't have any full text; it may be the most comprehensive index for your topic (ERIC, SOCINDEX, PSYCH ARTICLES). You'll be able to get the citation and abstract (summary); the article may be available in another library.

If you find a citation and don't see the full text in the database, ask a librarian for assistance.

10. Ask a Librarian!

Ask the librarian on duty at the reference desk for assistance. The librarian(s) listed along the right column of this page are familiar with your assignment. Please feel free to contact the librarian who taught your class via e-mail, in person or by phone with your question or to make an in-person appointment.

For real-time chat, use the live chat box to the left of this column or from the homepage of the library website.  

In addition, texting and e-mail reference is available during off hours. For more information, visit the Ask Us Anything page.

You can also call the Reference Desk at 914 606-6960 and speak to a librarian whenever the library is open:

General Fall and Spring semester hours:

  • Monday - Thursday  8:00 am - 9:30 pm
  • Friday  8:00 am - 5:00 pm
  • Saturday  9:00 am - 5:00 pm
  • Sunday 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm


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