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Getting Started - a Guide to How the Library Works: Articles

Step-by-step information about getting research done in the library (or wherever you happen to be).

Basically . . .

You will want to use articles in many of your research projects. The library has lots of databases that can help you find articles relevant for almost any topic. Databases for articles and other materials offer references to publications that may or may not be in this library; some databases offer full text of articles and others simply citations - or there may be a mix. There are in-depth databases that cover publications in a particular field such as chemistry and others that cover lots of subjects, including the two listed below.

Journals List: Do We Have this Journal?

When you have a source with a bibliography, you can see if a particular article from the bibliography is available by looking the journal's name up at the link below. Then you can use the volume and date information to navigate to the article. If we don't have access to that journal, we usually can get it from another library.

Historical Magazines

If you are looking for historical magazines, you won't find these online. However, we have many 19th and 20th century magazines in print on the lower level of the library. They are shelved alphabetically by title. If you want to search by subject, ask a reference librarian to point you toward The Reader's Guide to Periodicals, which indexes magazines by topic.

How Articles are Published

There are very different processes involved in publishing different kinds of articles. Newspapers rely on a team of staff reporters as well as free-lance writers to create what is famously called "the first draft of history." They also draw on a shared pool of "wire services" so that you often will find in a local newspaper an article written for the Associated Press or for a different newspaper published elsewhere.

Magazines are similar, though they are typically less immediate than newspapers and cover local news in less depth. There are hosts of general magazines such as The New Yorker and Harper's. Some magazines consciously reflect a political perspective. The National Review represents a conservative perspective, while The Nation is left-wing. Others, such as New Scientist, focus on a particular subect but are written for a general audience. And then there are trade publications, magazines written to cover a particular business or industry. Articles in those magazines are mostly written by journalists who specialize in those industries.

Scholarly journals contain articles that are more analytical and are written by scholars, for scholars. They raise questions and apply research methods that are specific to a discipline such as history or chemistry. These generally go through a process of "peer review" in which other scholars weigh in on the value and validity of each article before it is published. Scholarly journals also publish other kinds of articles, such as reviews of scholarly books. Because scholarly articles take time to research and to be reviewed by peers, scholarly journals will not be as current as newspapers or magazines; however they can provide perspectives that make sense of current events. They also can become news. A scholarly article that reports on how charter schools are doing or on a new medical study may become the subject of a story in The New York Times.


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Kinds of Databases

We have many different databases - so many, it can be bewildering. Some provide only references to published articles, sometims with "abstracts" (summaries). Some provide the full text of the articles. Some are a mix of full-text and references.

Some are interdisiplinary and try to cover a great many subjects and kinds of publications. Academic Search Premier is an example. Others specialize in a particular format, such as newspapers. A note about newspapers: most of them have Websites with free material, but some charge for articles. Use the library's newspaper databases rather than pay a fee.

For each major, there are discipline-specific specialized databases, that focus more narrowly on a subject area, but in far more depth than any other database. Though these may not be a place to start researching an unfamiliar topic, they are essential for more advanced projects.

Though many databases focus on articles published in the past thirty years or so, some serve as historical archives. JSTOR, for example, is a full-text archive of scholarly journals; in most cases recent years are not included, but you will find articles published back in the 1920s. When using this database, take care you aren't using out-of-date analysis. The New York Times Historical database does not include current years of the newspaper (though you can search those elsewhere). But it does cover the past - back to 1851!

How to Search Databases

You can afford to be far more specific in your search terms when looking for shorter pieces of writing such as articles than when looking for books. The trick is deciding which terms to use. Be prepared to rethink your search multiple times and use an advanced search option when available.

Many databases include subject headings or descriptors in records for a particular article. Use these to rethink your search terms. You can also shorten a search term and end it with an asterisk. For example "psycholog*" as a search term will look for psychology, psychological, psychologist, and so on.

You can also combine terms in a variety of ways using "and," "or," and "not." Synonyms can be strung together to search them all at once using the "or" connector. ("Pumas or Mountain Lions" will find both.) You can narrow a search down by using the "and" connector. ("Ireland and peace" will find information about both topics.) You can also elminate terms from a search using "not" ("viruses not computer").

Where Do I Find the Actual Articles?

Once you've identified an interesting article, look for a yellow "find it!" button to see if it is available either in full text or in print. Print journals are shelved on the lower level alphabetically by title, with the most recent issues in separate A-Z section from the older issues. With the exception of the most recent issue of the most popular magazines (shelved near the Browsing Collection), you may check magazines and journals out for a week.

If an article is not available in full text or in print, there is an option to request it through interlibrary loan, using your Gustavus account login to identify yourself. This generally means it will be scanned in for you at another library. An e-mail message will be sent to you with a URL and pin number to retrieve it. Though these scanned articles are sometimes are available within 24 hours, they can take longer. Plan ahead.

Sometimes you come across a footnote with an article that looks interesting. You don't need to turn to a database to find it. Check the title of the magazine or journal (not the article title) from the journals list tab of the library's main page (or on the left of this page). If it is not available to us at Gustavus, log in to your library account and fill out an interlibrary loan request.

Hint: Finding Open Access Articles

Increasingly, scholars are frustrated that their research is available only to people who have access to big libraries, so they either publish their research in journals that are free to anyone to read or they reserve the right to put copies of their research online. Try Googling the author and title of an article you need and add filetype:pdf - you might get lucky and find a free copy online.

For research in biology and biomedical sciences, the National Institutes of Health provides two nifty options. PubMed is a huge database of medical research articles. After you do a search, you can choose to limit your results to free full text articles.

Or you can go to PubMed Central, an archive of over 1,000 life science journals and articles based on research funded by the NIH to find lots of articles in biology and medicine.

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