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FTS: Explorer Naturalists: Making Your Own Discoveries

Exploring in the Library and Online

Exploring can be frustrating at times. You might find yourself having to back up when you reach a barrier. You might encounter a river of information and not know how to cross it. There may be snakes. (Don't worry - there aren't any in the library.) If you think of it as a journey of discovery, a chance to find things out rather than a destination that seems hard to reach, you'll have more fun.

old map

photo of an old map courtesy of Rosario Fiore

Choosing a Direction

You will have to spend some time poking around to see what ideas grab you. This is often the most difficult part of the research process - and the most frustrating because you don't feel as if you're making much headway. Try these strategies to make the most of this part of the process:

Make a list of possible issues to research. Use class discussions, texts, personal interests, conversations with friends, and discussions with your teacher for ideas. Start writing them down - you'd be surprised how much faster they come once you start writing.

Map out a potential topic by finding out what others have had to say about it. This is not the time for in-depth reading, but rather for a quick scan. Many students start with a Google search, but you can also browse the shelves where books on the topic are kept and see what controversies or issues have been receiving attention. You may start out knowing virtually nothing about your topic, but after scanning what's out there you should have several ideas worth following up.

Invent questions. Do two things you come across seem to offer interesting contrasts? Does one thing seem intriguingly connected to something else? Is there something about the topic that surprises you? Do you encounter anything that makes you wonder why? Do you run into something that makes you think, "that is so messed up." Chances are you've just uncovered a good research focus.

Talk it over. Tell a classmate or some other willing victim what you're working on. Sometimes just explaining the idea can help you clarify for yourself what direction seems most interesting.

Browsing Books

Search our catalog (start on the library's main page) and write down location information for books that sound promising. When you go to the shelves, browse the area around the books - there may be additional useful information shelved nearby. If we have videos on your topic, they will also show up in the catalog.

Pro Tip: Some books don't fit on the regular shelves so are in an Oversized Collection area upstairs, in the corner by Olin. These often are richly illustrated books - good for visual materials for your project.


Finding Articles

We live in interesting times.Science reports used to be printed on paper in journals that came out regularly, bringing new research to the attention of other scientists. Now most journals are published in digital form, but as an explorer you may have to navigate both formats. Even more complicated, in many cases you can't click through to the article.

Pro Tip: we can get articles - and books, too - from other libraries through interlibrary loan. If you encounter an article online that costs money, don't pay for it - we'll get it for you.

Finding Images

In addition to Google, try searching these image collections.

Digital Public Library of America - a collaborative project to make America's digital collections discoverable.

Flickr - The Commons - images from museums and libraries.

NYPL Digital Collections - hundreds of thousands of digitized manuscripts, images, videos, etc.

Perry-Castaneda Map Library - historical maps of exploration in the United States via the University of Texas

In the Reference Section

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