Navigating the Information Jungle Part 2: Making Sense of Reading Lists

This post follows on from Part 1: Knowing What’s Out There

So now you know how to find things, but can you identify what it is you’re actually searching for in the first place?

When approaching a reading list there are two main things that may cause you problems: identifying what type of item you are looking for, and then understanding how best to search for it.

The three main types of item that you will encounter on your reading lists are:

  1. Normal books (sometimes called ‘monographs’)
  2. Specific chapters in books
  3. Journal articles

The normal books are of course the commonest and most easily identifiable items, but the others can potentially cause confusion, not least because different reading list compilers’ have different styles of listing, and they tend to make assumptions about a level of knowledge of a subject.

Here is an example of a chapter from a book, as it features on a reading list:
Reference for book chapterIt is important to know that you cannot usually search using the chapter name or chapter author in library catalogues. You need to identify that this is part of a book, and search for that book title and author. Usually it will say ‘…’ in ‘…’ so look out for that.
Here is an example of a journal article:

Reference for a journal articleOften the reading list will state the title and author of the article, alongside the acronym and issue of the journal, or the full title and issue.

If the full journal title is there it is usually easy to recognise that it is a journal, and the presence of the issue or volume information also indicates this. Acronyms will almost exclusively be journals, but the problem here is identifying which journal it is. Again, like for chapters in books, you cannot necessarily search for the article title, you have to search for that journal, then find the article within that. So acronyms obviously make that tricky!

Often those making the reading list may not think to remember that undergraduates won’t have encountered these acronyms before, and so they may not make a key of what the journal titles are. There is also no one entirely reliable online directory of all journal acronyms as there are so many journals across different subjects using the same acronyms. You can try googling it, looking for the article title may provide the journal information, but it may be easiest to ask the person who set you the reading list, or your department librarian.

Once you have identified what kind of item you are searching for, how do you use the catalogues to search for it? There are many guides for how to get the most out of the different catalogues available, for example on the UL website, on our blog and in our info sheet found above the drop boxes. We really recommend looking there, but for now I just want to draw your attention to a couple of things to bear in mind.

It is important to know that for the majority of reading lists, which provide quite full details about each item, you should avoid copy and pasting the whole line of information or typing the whole reference out as is, because usually reading lists do not lay the information out in the same way that the catalogue does. Here is what happens if you do that in Heritage for example:

Copying & pasting from reading listHowever in the example above you can see that when Heritage does not find any results for your search, it shows you how many results appear for each of the keywords in your search string. We can see therefore that it is best to search using key words such as the author’s name or unusual words from the title. In the example above, Heritage has found 3 results for ‘Bockmuehl’ compared to nearly 5,000 for ‘Cambridge’.

When to use each catalogueIn general we recommend that you use the Heritage catalogue if you want to find out if the item is in Homerton, and LibrarySearch for the faculties and UL, as this is better than the Newton catalogues in many ways. LibrarySearch+ is brilliant for articles, but will bring back an enormous set of results, and that may include things that the University does not have full access to.

Libraries may have paper copies of some journals (e.g. on our second floor) but mostly you will be looking at online material. Not all academics are fully aware of what you can access for free – I have seen reading lists say that you will need to pay to view newspapers – this is not true – just search for LexisNexis on the e-resources page!

The other thing to remember when tackling reading lists is that they do quite often contain mistakes. Misspellings, particularly of author surnames do happen, so finding no results for your search may not be accurate. If you are surprised that no library in the whole of Cambridge has something then check in Google to see if the author is slightly wrong.

Titles do also get mixed up. The person compiling the list may be putting the title down from memory and get it slightly wrong, or more often the subtitle changes between editions, even though the book is the same. So sometimes just searching for the main title is a safer bet.

Academics make mistakes too!Sometimes the Library doesn’t have the book you want, and that will be the same for any library in Cambridge. We don’t have bottomless funds, or staff working 24/7. Please do request books for us to buy (send us an email or write your request in the book at the Enquiry Desk), but realise at the very least they will take a day or two to arrive, and often longer. We want to know what’s missing so we build our collections with the right material, but a last minute recommendation for this week’s essay topic may not arrive in time. But, we might just have a few pieces of advice to help you get what you need.

First off, have you checked if the book is anywhere in a Cambridge library? If a library does have a copy and you get in touch with them, you can often arrange to go and read the book in the library, even if you can’t borrow it.

Maybe that isn’t the case though, and all the copies are out from the libraries you have access to. Make sure you check whether an ebook is available. It should come up in the results on LibrarySearch and Heritage, but if you are using Newton it won’t display the ebook result. So unless you have a really good reason to use Newton we’d recommend looking elsewhere.

Another option is to check Google Books. They may have either a complete, or more often a partial version of the book. If you’ve been told to look at just a particular chapter or two you may find all of it available to you there.

Along similar lines is Amazon’s look inside feature. You need to be logged into an Amazon account, but you can then look inside many books. And, whilst what you get as a preview is limited, this can help if you’ve got your quotation but don’t know what page it was from, as you can put it into the search inside box and often get the page number that way.

Read on for Part 3: Referencing and Plagiarism


About homlib

The Library of Homerton College, University of Cambridge.
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3 Responses to Navigating the Information Jungle Part 2: Making Sense of Reading Lists

  1. Pingback: Navigating the Information Jungle: Slides, links and resources | Homerton College Library weblog

  2. Pingback: Navigating the Information Jungle Part 1: Knowing What’s Out There | Homerton College Library weblog

  3. Pingback: Navigating the Information Jungle Part 3: Referencing and Plagiarism | Homerton College Library weblog

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