A few weeks ago, I got a call from my sister, a freshman in at the University of Pittsburgh, complaining that she didn’t have enough money to buy all her textbooks before a new semester of classes began.
“Go get the books from the library,” I suggested. “They may even be placed on reserve for you.”
“I don’t want to go to the library just to see if they have the book or not.” She responded.
I was shocked. I couldn’t believe my own flesh and blood didn’t know she could use an online catalog to search for the book.
No matter, where you go to school, your university library will have lots of resources for you to use. The first step is finding the library website. If you don’t already know the website, you should start by going to the school homepage. Usually there’s a direct link to it, but sometimes you have to click on another gateway. At my undergrad, the library link is difficult to spot, but it is also accessible by clicking on “Offices” from the homepage and then selecting “Libraries.”
link to the library page is circled in red
Once you get to the library homepage, there are several resources to be aware of. First, there’s the catalog. Use it to search for any books or materials you might need, especially if there is a specific book you’re looking for. Often, when doing research, you can find more sources in the bibliography of a book or article. Look up those titles and authors.
One thing I liked about Bryn Mawr’s system was that you could look up reserve books by the Professor’s name.
A search for a professor's reserve materials
Beyond a catalog, the library website will have a link to databases you can search, special collections, and other resources the library offers.
Pitt's library website, showing the links for the catalog and for databases
When I was in college, it took me quite a while to figure out databases. When I needed to find articles, I usually relied to Google Scholar. It wasn’t until my senior year, when I had to take a thesis seminar in research methods, that I finally understood how useful databases were. After college, I worked for a company that published academic databases. My first day at the University of Maryland, I immediately went to the library website and found their academic databases tool. 100% of what I’ve written as a graduate student involved using the database portal to find articles. Databases give you access to something you just cannot afford on your own. I will definitely miss it when my student access runs out.
The most important tool is the librarians themselves. At UMD, you can chat online with a librarian, but if that service isn’t available to you, I suggest you go and talk to a reference librarian during business hours. You don’t need to have a specific question about a book to talk to get help. As an undergrad, I liked talking to librarians at the beginnings of big research assignments, just to tell them what I was trying to do and hear what was out there.
In my opinion, learning to utilize these resources is a huge part of the educational experience. Not only does it help you do your work now, but it trains you to be a better researcher in the future. I’m hoping to do an instructional video on this topic, as soon as I can figure out which tutorial software to use.