Traditional Sources

How to Search Traditional Print Sources

Print sources include books, newspapers, magazines, journals, and any other hard-copy sources such as official records. Print sources generally include all tangible sources such as video or audio tapes.

Print sources are still valuable for research. While many print sources are available in an online version, many are not. Copyrighted materials that are not yet in the public domain are often available only in print version.

Library catalogs are now generally available both in print and electronically. In other words, you can search a library catalog online to see what is available on the shelves. In many cases, you can now reserve, request transfer from a library affiliate, and even renew online.

The catalog, whether you access in print or electronically, is the first step in selecting print sources. The contents of the library are organized by subject and by author. Some electronic library catalogs might also include a keyword search.

Encyclopedias and dictionaries can be very useful resources, especially a specialized encyclopedia such as the Encyclopedia of Aeronautics or specialized dictionary such as a medical dictionary. They are excellent ways of getting general information on your particular subject if you are not familiar with it at all.

The table of contents or an index, if any, of a book can be helpful in determining whether there is information on your question. Bibliographies, list of books, can be helpful in find a source. There are periodical indexes which are lists by content of either one periodical or several periodicals. These indexes would save the time of going through the individual table of contents of each journal. In some disciplines, there are specialized reference works such as the Oxford English Dictionary which gives not only the current definition of a word but also every definition the word ever had in printed documents along with more information.

Once you have found possible sources, they must be screened for validity and appropriateness. If you are researching a topic such as stem cell research where there are new studies being published regularly, a book published even five years ago is probably not appropriate. Newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals are better sources for the most recent information.

The background of the author is an appropriate way to screen for validity. Information about treatment for diseases from a physician may be more valid that information from a person without a medical background. Association with an organization is also a tool for evaluating validity. Whether or not a publication is peer reviewed is critical. Scholarly journals, for example, are usually peer reviewed which means that specialists in the field have reviewed the articles for validity and significance before publishing.

Increasingly, the entire contents of libraries are online. This can be particularly helpful even if your ultimate goal is to use the print version since you can do an online content keyword search to see if the book contains information on your question.

As much as possible, screening for appropriate hard-copy sources should be done through information in the online catalogs to avoid wasting time in going to a library only to find the source was not appropriate.