It's difficult to know exactly where in a book your artwork might appear. Be prepared to browse upstairs. Look for books about the artist or the place and period in which your artwork was created. Write down the call numbers. Then sit on the floor and take your time looking through the books. Use the index and/or table of contents to see if your artwork is included.
If you want to see whether a particular person or work of art is mentioned in a book, you might try search Google Books, Hathi Trust, or Amazon. In some cases, but certainly not all, the full text of books have been scanned and are searchable, though you will not be able to print out or in some cases even see more than a few words surrounding your search results. However, this might help you decide whether to order a book through interlibrary loan.
Sometimes you will need to define unfamiliar terms to understand exactly what an author means as they make an argument. The art encyclopedias may help you nail down movements, techniques, or technical terms being flung around as you trace the history of your artwork.
When you have an article with references, you can see if a particular reference 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.
One of the most powerful ways to find valuable sources and assess their signifcance is to follow the breadcrumb trail left by scholars in their published work. When researchers cite sources, they are bolstering their argument by providing evidence, but also pointing readers to places they can go for more information. Take them up on it!
In addition to references in books and articles, the bibliographies found in specialized reference works will point you to the most significant research on a topic, an efficient shortcut to the best stuff.
Once you see a reference that looks good, how do you get your hands on it? Here's a quick checklist.
If you have never used interlibrary loan before, it may seem daunting, but it's not too difficult. You can request something we don't have that you discovered in a database using the yellow "find it" button. The first step then is to log in with your Gustavus account. This is how our library system identifies you. Then a form will be already filled out for you; all you have to do is agree to abide by copyright law and submit the request.
Sometimes you learned about a book or article that you didn't find in a database. (It may have been cited in an article or book.) In that case, you need to fill out the form yourself. Log in using your Gustavus account, click your name in the upper right corner, select "My ILL Requests," then click "Create Request." Fill in as much as you know and submit your request.
Articles usually take 24-48 hours. You typically get an email that will explain how to download a scan of the article. Books have to be delivered by courier and can take longer.
One of the nifty things about Google Scholar is that it will tell you who has cited a particular work. When you want to know if a book or article has been influential, try typing the author and title into Google Scholar. Then click on the "cited by" link under the reference. The number of citations may indicate how much attention your source has gotten over the years, and the citations themselves may be useful in your research.