Information in libraries comes in several different formats, which usually means it is presented, processed, shelved, and stored in several different ways. Books, for example, are usually shelved in specific areas, away from most issues of magazines, copies of videotapes, or microfilmed materials. If library researchers want to use a library to maximum effect, they should begin by finding out what materials are available there, and in what form; what clientele they were meant for; where materials are held in the library; how to use library tools to access them; and how to utilize the materials effectively.
Library materials include print and non-print formats. The formats have evolved from primarily print materials, such as books and periodicals, to include multi-media materials (e. g. videotapes, audiocassettes, slides) and, more recently, electronic resources such as CD-ROM and Internet-based databases. No matter what the format of the information happens to be, however, it always has to be made accessible to the researcher.
Accessibility is usually achieved in one or more of four major ways, or access points: by who wrote or compiled it (author); by what it is named (title); by what it is about (subject); or by an important word or words that appear somewhere in the document (keyword).
Formerly, before widespread digitalization of library materials, the "group-concept" access points of authors, titles, or subjects were virtually the only access points. Then computers made it possible to search by a key word or words instead of by a group concept. Keyword searching allows for searching by one or more meaningful words, in documents of sometimes many thousands of words, in the hope of making the search more specific and customized, and therefore more likely to produce the desired results.
Libraries have books, periodicals, multi-media, and electronic materials. Some are in print or electronic form, or on storage material such as microfilm. Because of their different forms, natures, and intended uses they are usually shelved separately and sometimes accessed separately. Today, most libraries have much of their materials in print, media, and electronic format.
Sometimes beginning library researchers confuse the function of a library resource or tool with its format. This is understandable, but it gets in the way of efficient searching. A library resource or tool’s function is defined by its intended use and/or content. Materials and equipment in a library include both information resources, and the tools used to access them. Books and periodicals (magazines, newspapers, and journals) are the mainstays of most libraries, and library users are all used to seeing them in their customary paper formats. But some books are on audiocassette or in computer form. Some periodical issues are also in electronic form, or on microfilm. Yet these items are no less books or periodicals because they are not in paper form.
The library tools used to access library materials or information about them can also be in different forms. The reference tool in libraries which helps users locate books is a catalog. It doesn’t matter if it is in card, book, or computer form; if its job is to tell users which books the library owns, and where they are located, the resource is a catalog.
Similarly, a library reference tool called an index allows users to search for periodical articles on wanted topics. Indexes specify exactly which issues of periodicals, with dates and page numbers, contain articles on a given subject. It doesn’t matter if the index is in book or computer format, it is an index because of the function it performs.
Many library users fall into the trap of defining a tool or resource by only a quick glance at its format, instead of looking to see which function it performs. Take the time, as you begin research in a library, to find out which resources are available and where they are located. Begin with finding the two most constant access tools in libraries, the catalogs and the indexes, which respectively tell researchers how to find books and periodical articles.
Books and periodicals still comprise the main kinds of print materials in most libraries. Access to information in or about printed books is afforded through a library’s catalog. Every library has one: it could be a card, book, or computer catalog, though most contemporary libraries now have the latter type. The SMC Library Catalog
is a computer catalog, or OPAC
(Online Public Access Catalog). The principal job of a library catalog is to tell the library user which materials the library owns, where they are located, and how they are made available. Typical library holdings listed in catalogs include books, periodicals, media materials, and other items the library owns.
In most libraries, books are placed on bookshelves, which are often called stacks, by subject areas. These areas are coded according to a formal classification system. A classification system is a standardized set of rules for labeling and identifying books according to their subjects, authors and other distinguishing information. Each book is given a call number, which is the code that represents: the classification system used; the subject, author, and/or title of the book; and further identifying information. It also serves as the "address" for placing and locating the book on library shelves.
In each of these systems a set of numbers, a set of letters of the alphabet, or configurations of both stand for subject areas.
In Dewey libraries, books on mathematics and science are placed in the 500 section. Specific sciences are given specific areas within the 500s range. Human Anatomy and other biology books, for example, are in the 570s area. The same book in an LC library, where works on mathematics and science are in the Q’s, would be in section QM, since those are the call letters for works on Human Anatomy. And in an NLM library ,the same book would be in section QS.
Books are placed on bookshelves by subject, and beginning researchers might think that the fastest way to find what they need is to simply go directly to (for example) the science section and browse there to see what was available. Using this method might net one or useful books. But this kind of hit-or-miss research rarely suits the purposes of serious students, scholars, and other researchers. They need the most proficient, specific, and time-saving means possible to locate needed information to write their papers or study for exams. So they have to take the time before beginning research to learn the ways of efficiently accessing the information they need.
Using the catalog is the most efficient way to zero in on needed books. The listing for each book in the catalog is called the record (or entry) for the book. The record or entry gives not only the call number, but also other important identifying and describing information, such as author, title, city of publication, the publisher, and the copyright or publication date of the book. These basic components of a book’s description usually comprise a basic citation for the book, because they include the most fundamental descriptions needed to identify or describe accurately a specific book. Citations are useful for both locating materials and for documenting them in notes and bibliographies.
Citations are standardized according to a set of rules called a style, which dictates how entries are arranged, put in order, punctuated, and written out. There are many styles that students use in completing their academic research compositions. Two of the ones most widely used in colleges and universities are the MLA (Modern Language Association) and the APA (American Psychological Association) styles. There are also other widely-used styles. Professors usually choose one and instruct their students to use it when writing required papers.
Periodicals and Periodical Indexes
Access to information in periodicals (magazines, newspapers, and journals) is provided by indexes (or indices). A periodical index differs from a catalog, which is usually set up by each library to reflect only what that specific library or library system owns. Indexes, however, are generally published by outside companies who choose which periodicals they feature, and who then sell their indexes to libraries on a subscription basis. Generally, libraries don't have a direct voice in selecting the periodicals that the companies use. Therefore, though a library might subscribe to a particular index, such as General Science Index, the library probably won’t own all the journals and magazines used in the index.
Indexes allow users to look up a subject and discover exactly which issues of periodicals have articles on that topic. The topic listings under which the articles are found are called subject headings. Searching in this way eliminates aimless browsing, guessing, and loss of valuable time. Indexes customarily provide the title of each article, its author's), the title of the periodical in which the article appears, the date of the periodical and the volume, issue, and page numbers of the article. This information comprises a basic citation for an article. The citation includes the most fundamental descriptions needed to identify accurately a specific article, just as similar appropriate information identifies a book. A correct periodical citation enables researchers to check their library’s holdings to find out whether the library owns the needed periodical and issue, whether in electronic or print form. If so, researchers can then retrieve the issue and find the article.
Indexes that include summaries of the articles as well as citations are called "abstracts". Biological Abstracts, for example, is an abstract and one of the most useful titles for biology students.
Most SMC Library books and periodicals are still in print format. So are some of our indexes to periodical articles. But, in keeping with most other libraries, SMC makes considered but timely transitions from traditional formats to electronic ones as often as feasible. This is because of the greater capacity for speed, specificity, and efficiency that electronic resources offer library users. Digitized resources such as periodical indexes on CD-ROM (Compact Disc Read-Only Memory) were the forerunners of online databases that now come to us via the Internet. Online indexes are web-based resources, meaning that information comes through the World Wide Web and can be constantly added to, deleted, or updated at all hours of the day and night, making it immediately available in the databases.
Researchers use a browser such as Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer for accessing materials on the World Wide Web. The Web is an Internet service that allows users to retrieve documents composed not only of words, but also of graphics/images, sound, or video. It also allows very easy connecting from one document to another.
In the World Wide Web, researchers use a search engine or directory such as Alta Vista, Yahoo, WebCrawler, or Excite to type in their topics and retrieve hypertext documents. Hypertext materials allow users reading one document onscreen to use a mouse to click on (usually) color-highlighted, underlined words in the document called a link. This action immediately calls onto the screen the other document that the link represents. This interconnected "web" of documents provides a fascinating if not always effective way to look for materials on the Internet.
Web-based search engines and databases are usually searched by keywords connected, in a structured search, by the Boolean operators AND, OR, or NOT. Boolean searching is named for mathematician George Boole, and will be discussed more fully later in the tutorial.
Web materials can be useful, but as with all other documents from all other sources, researchers have to evaluate each web site and web document critically. Since almost anyone with a computer can publish on the Web, the credentials of document creators cannot be easily verified. Finding documents through the Internet does not give the documents automatic authority. There are, however, several web sites that offer good advice on how to evaluate Internet sources. Here is one from Cornell and another from UCLA.
The SMC Library’s catalog/OPAC and several of the Library’s academic databases are Web-based. The OPAC represents an electronic form of a print card catalog. The databases can also represent electronic versions of print indexes or other reference sources. These databases are proprietary and not found for free on the Internet. The Library subscribes to these resources just as it subscribes to print versions of, for example, the Los Angeles Times, so that students will have appropriate and useful information available to them that is targeted to their general needs. The databases are accessed on computer workstations, but although they come to us via the World Wide Web they are not strictly Internet documents.
Review the section above. Then:
Click Here for Quiz 1: Formats of Library Resources