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Researching at the Library: Books & Articles

Research tips, resources, basics, and links to course-specific research guides.

Specialized Search Engines

NoodleTools lists different types of search engines in Choose the Best Search Engine for Your Information Need. There is so much more out there than Google!

Find quotes, speeches, maps, background, analysis, primary documents, or country data, for example, or even get personal help with these specialized engines.

The examples below are just a few of the fantastic options that NoodleTools collected.

Boston Public Library eCard

Massachusetts State residents can sign up for a Boston Public Library eCard via the web! Just follow the prompts on the registration form and your eCard number will be emailed to you. (Use the school's address if you are an out-of-state or foreign boarder.)

BPL eCards are virtual library cards that allow users immediate entry to all of Boston Public Library's remotely-accessible electronic resources, including magazine databases, downloadable audio, video, eBooks, and music. eCard users who wish to check out library materials will be asked to upgrade to a standard BPL card.

You can find more information at the BPL website.

From Our Library: Find Ebooks

MassCat, the Pescosolido library catalog, now includes a selection of ebooks. A regular search will bring up ebook results alongside physical books.

If you want to search just ebooks, type electronic resource after your search term(s) (for example, gun control electronic resource).

Many databases have ebooks as well as articles; check our webpage for a list of databases we offer.

ABC-CLIO's ebook collection is dedicated to ebooks only, and can be accessed on campus.

Ebooks Elsewhere

The links below direct you to sites that offer free ebooks for different devices.

Note: These sites offer only works that are not copyrighted (=in public domain). Therefore, their selection is limited.

Also, the selection and quality varies from site to site. It might be worthwhile to check more than one site.

AP History Classes

If you cannot find an article in our library databases, we can submit an article delivery request from Boston Public Library. Please ask the front desk.

Search Google Scholar for scholarly materials, including theses, books, abstracts and articles.

JSTOR Early Journal Content provides free access to materials published prior to 1923 in the U.S. and prior to 1870 elsewhere. Articles from 200+ journals in arts, humanities, economics, politics, mathematics, and other sciences. Check the box for “Include only content I can access” below the Advanced Search box and click “Search”.

From Our Library: Find Books

The library website links to different catalogs. The Pescosolido library catalog is called MassCat. We share MassCat with certain other Massachusetts libraries. You can find a link to the catalog here, or on the school website by going to Governor’s Academy > Academics > Library > Catalogs and Databases.

MassCat: Our Catalog

To search our library catalog, you do not need to log in. Just type your search terms (keywords) into the search box.

Use the drop-down menu on the left to search Title or Author if you are looking for something specific, and Subject to search materials in a given topic only.

Advanced Search allows you to combine multiple types of searches into one. For example:

Other options you can select include for example material type, language, and library (location where the material is available).

Once you have a list of results, you can rearrange them by using the pull-down the menu on the right.

The default setting is Relevance, which means that results at the top of the list are more likely to be what you want than the results towards the bottom of the list. It is also possible to sort the books by publication date (find the oldest/newest) or by call number (arrange books on the same topic together), for example, or alphabetically by author or title.

Go through your results list one by one and decide whether you want to have a look at the actual items (books, encyclopedias, DVDs, etc.). If you cannot tell whether a book or DVD might be useful or not, click on a title to access the record for an item. A record could look like this, for example:

A record tells you more information about items, for example, title, author, publisher, publishing date, ISBN, length, whether there are pictures, location in the library, availability or due date, and call number, for example. An important feature for researchers is Subject.

Use Subject to find synonyms and alternate vocabulary for your search, and to locate other items in the library collection once you have found a book or DVD that is relevant to your topic.


Find Material in the Library

To find items on our shelves, you will need the Location (which section in the library to go to), Call Number (where exactly is the item shelved), and Status (whether the item is available or already checked out). Click on Add to Your Cart to save an item temporarily.

Return to your list of results and go through them, saving useful or interesting items in your cart. When you are ready, click on the green Cart button and print your cart. This way you do not have to write down the titles, authors, shelving locations, and call numbers. Finally, Empty and Close your cart.

Call Numbers

To get the items you want to look at, you need your cart printout or the same information written down by hand. At minimum, you  must have the call number. Call numbers consist of a string of numbers that represents the subject matter, followed by the first three letters of the author's last name (or in some cases the title of the book). Call numbers are arranged numerically, and within one number, the items are arranged alphabetically.

To find the correct section of the library - for example fiction, non-fiction, or graphic novels - look for the signs in the library or ask at the front desk.

Once in the correct section, look at the signs at the ends of stacks and compare the numbers on the signs with your cart printout. (A stack is a large, usually double-sided book case.) These signs list a bracket of call numbers, for example 613.94 MAR - 635.9 SHE. Find the bracket that contains your call number(s).

Once you are at the right stack, look at the call numbers in more detail. They show the shelf location of materials in a library, much like an address. Non-fiction books and DVDs are grouped by call numbers, which means that any one topic is shelved in the same place.This allows you to browse the collection at the shelves and see how large the collection is in a given topic much faster than just by searching the catalog. Call numbers for entertainment DVDs and fiction work the same way, except they do not have a string of numbers; instead, DVD call numbers begin with DVD and fiction call numbers begin with FIC.

Step into the isle and scan spine labels for the right number. 

Note that call numbers 'grow' to the right: adding another number at the end of a call number changes it into a new, more specific one. Therefore, 973.74 is shelved before 973.741, which in turn is shelved before 973.7411, for example.

After you find the correct number on the shelf, look at the letters in the spine label. This part is easy: just follow alphabetical order within each call number.

After finding your item, take a look around. Since computers are not infallible, it is possible that a catalog search will not bring up all relevant material in the library. By browsing the shelves, you can often to find more material serendipitously, because library materials are shelved according to topic: like with like. It is also possible that a book has been misshelved by accident - displaced by a few slots - which is another good reason to take a closer look at the rest of the shelves.

Also check bibliographies and footnotes in books that are appropriate to your subject. These are often a treasure trove for further sources.

If it should happen that you cannot find a book despite your best efforts, please contact the front desk. It is possible that someone else is writing about your topic as well and already borrowed many books. Sometimes books get lost, too. Our staff has experience tracking down strays - just ask us for help!

From Our Library: Find Articles

Most library databases contain selected resources that can be accessed only by paying a fee. Schools, colleges, universities, and public libraries pay this fee, however, so as a student or a public library card holder you can use all the library databases for free. This is why you need to enter a database through a school/library website. This is also a significant benefit - take advantage of it!

Select a database from the list on our webpage, or see topic-specific Guides on this site for recommended databases.


Note. These databases require a valid Governor's Academy user name. If you are off campus here are instructions on how to access the databases off-campus .

Because they vary in their content and emphasis, try several article databases. When you find something good, e-mail useful articles to yourself or input them into NoodleTools. It is easier to delete materials later than it is to recreate a search. Keep track of which databases you have searched so you do not duplicate your work.

"Do Not Use the Internet"

When your teacher tells you not to use the Internet, most likely they do not want you to just randomly google around. They want you to search smart.

The Internet is in some ways like a train. In a train, as long as you have a ticket, you can sit down and go places. If you want access to better amenities such as a sleeper car, you have to pay extra. Likewise, when you have a computer or smart phone and an Internet connection, the World Wide Web is available to you. Like a sleeper car, quality information or products online are not available for free.

Databases collect reliable, authoritative articles for easy access. They are the sleeper cars of the Internet - the extra payment you make shows in the quality of your experience. The fact that databases are digital and therefore available online and fully searchable does not make them bad sources for a research paper - quite the opposite!

There are many different kinds of databases. In the library world, they are electronic collections of information, such as collections of journal articles. Google or Wikipedia might be your first stop, but they should never be the only ones for a research paper.

Databases are your best source of articles suitable for a research paper, because they contain scholarly information of generally high quality, by known, recognized authors whose articles are reviewed by other researchers in the same field (peer-reviewed). Many databases are also subject-specific, which means that you will get fewer irrelevant results.


Databases vs. the Internet

Databases are more appropriate to research projects than many Internet sites. The latter must be analyzed for bias, accuracy, reliability, and currency. Internet sites often address only general knowledge that is not specific enough for a research paper.

There are reliable websites, too, of course; especially sites ending in .edu, .gov, or .mil are often treasure troves of authoritative information. Finding the quality stuff among trash is much harder in the general Internet than in a database.

Searching Google may seem faster than searching a database because it is a search engine you have used before. However, databases are just as fast, and they are even faster when it comes to citing an article: just copy&paste the publication (citation) information from the article into your bibliography (works cited list). The citation information is usually mentioned either at the very top or bottom, or in a side panel.

If you are citing an Internet site found via Google (or another search engine), there are several steps to citing a website correctly. You must look the steps up in a book, or use a citation tool like NoodleTools or EasyBib.

While it may take you some time to learn to use a database, once you have a handle on it, it will save you time and give you an advantage over your classmates in college who have not gotten into the database habit yet.

Read more on evaluating sources elsewhere in this guide and this site.

From Other Libraries: Find Books

Other catalogs that might be useful include:

Need More Help?

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