Chapter 2: Locating information

2.1 Three categories of finding tools

Now that you have some ideas about the extent and kinds of sources you need, it’s time to think about which search tools will find them. It might be tempting to do all of this information-gathering with a single internet search. However, you may need to use many types of sources, not all of which will be covered by your basic search engine, like Google. Keep in mind that research takes time, thought, and energy, and there will often be more than one place to search or tool to use.

Finding tools provide structure for information searches. They include information about a resource’s content (like what topics are discussed) and how it is packaged (like the format). In this chapter the three main categories of finding tools that we’ll discuss are web search engines, library discovery tools, and article indexes. You’re probably already familiar with at least one of these finding tools. While all of these tools are typically accessed via the internet, they function in different ways and search different things. Some finding tools overlap in coverage (e.g., all article indexes can find journal articles, but web search engines can also find some articles), but each has its own unique features that can help you find particular types of resources. The finding tools complement each other and each is a vital piece in the information-seeking puzzle. Below is a breakdown of the different finding tools we’ll discuss in this class.

Web search engines

Web search engines are tools that search the internet using the keywords you provide. Some popular search engines are Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Yahoo.

Search engines are best for finding:

  • websites,
  • news sources,
  • images,
  • statistical information from government sources and some other organizations, and
  • most of the information on the open web.

Library discovery tools

Library discovery tools combine the traditional library catalog (showing you what a library owns) with a collection of links to many journal articles and other online resources the library subscribes to. ISU Library’s Quick Search is an example of a library discovery tool.

Library discovery tools are best for finding:

  • books, e-books, and encyclopedias,
  • scholarly journals and journal articles, and
  • other materials that a specific library owns or provides access to.

Article indexes and databases

Article indexes and databases help you find scholarly materials such as journal articles, book chapters, and more. These tools use the keywords you provide to search through details about scholarly sources (such as topics, authors, and titles), allowing you to find targeted results. ISU Library’s list of article indexes and databases provides examples you have access to as an ISU student.

Article indexes and databases are best for finding:

  • scholarly journal articles and summaries of articles you can request through Interlibrary Loan,
  • newspaper articles, including many historical newspapers, and/or
  • highly specialized types of documents used in certain subject areas.
Table 2.1 Finding tool features
Web search engines Library discovery tools Article indexes
Simple Interface Yes Yes Yes
Various advance search options No Yes Yes, often designed for the subject area
Multiple filters for narrowing your search No Yes Yes
Coverage is focused on a particular subject area No No Yes, in many cases

Now that you know what kinds of resources you can find using these tools, we need to address some restrictions to how you can access those resources.

Library Guides are another way to find resources or databases by subject. A librarian has compiled information in a given discipline, and some are even made for a specific course. When deciding which guide to use, you’re not limited to just the ones listed for your major! You should select the guide that best fits the topic of your project or class.

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Library 160: Introduction to College-Level Research by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.