Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Research Tip: More Online Libraries, but These are for Everyone!

I've posted a couple of times about virtual libraries that most states offer for their citizens, and I've compiled a list of all those I've found at Facts for Fiction. I've found virtual libraries for 44 states so far. But what if your state doesn't have one? Or your library doesn't have the resources you need?

I've found a couple of online libraries that anyone can access. The first one is the Internet Public Library. I particularly like the Pathfinders page. At my library (at a community college), we prepare similar guides called subject guides for students in various classes or disciplines. These guides have links to the book catalogs, specific databases for finding articles in their field, trusted websites in their area, etc. Everything they need to guide them through a research project for their class, from start to finish. There's even a guide at the end for preparing their works cited list. These Pathfinders are similar guides for the general public. I like them because they aren't just a collection of web links, but they give you guidance on different ways to approach your search for information. These days, it's tempting to use a Google search for everything--and hey, I love Google! But if you can't quite find what you need that way, these guides may help you think of a new approach.

Also, the Internet Public Library has an "Ask a Question" form that you can use to--yes, that's right--ask a question of an actual live human being. In fact, the form cautions you to remember that you will be talking to a person, not typing keywords into a search engine, so you need to give them full sentences. Talk to them! This service is staffed by volunteers who are librarians or graduate students in library and information science programs. Aren't librarians wonderful?

Next is Library Spot. I'm amazed at the sheer number of links on the home page, and the different kinds of information they provide access to. In an earlier post, I mentioned their Ask an Expert link. What could be better for fiction writers trying to create characters with all kinds of interesting jobs and backgrounds?