It may seem hard to get motivated to go to the library. Some of us remember when libraries were cold and unfriendly places. Today libraries are inviting and friendly, and so are the people who work in them. You can use libraries not only to read books and articles but also to find online information and spaces for study. Most libraries also have computers and printers that you can use to complete your assignments. Many libraries now also house tutoring and learning centers and have sections where you can purchase and consume food and beverages, socialize, relax, and work in groups on homework assignments. There may also be areas where students are encouraged to talk with each other and study in groups, and, of course, you will find designated quiet study zones.

Whenever you have research to do for a class, for your job, or for your personal life, visit a library in person or access it online. We can’t stress this enough. Although the Internet is loaded with billions of pages of information, don’t be fooled into thinking it will serve all of your needs. For one thing, you’ll have to sort through a lot of junk to find your way to good-quality online sources. More important, if you limit yourself to the Web, you’ll miss out on some of the best materials. Although we often think that everything is electronic and can be found through a computer, a great deal of valuable information is still stored in traditional print formats and your college library database.

Every library has books and journals as well as a great number of items in electronic databases that aren’t available on public websites. Librarians at your college work with your instructors to determine the kinds of materials that support their teaching. Most libraries also have other types of information, such as government documents, microfilm, photographs, historical documents, maps, music, and films. A key component of being information literate is determining the kinds of sources you need to satisfy your research questions.


A college library is far more than a document warehouse, however. For starters, most campus libraries have websites and apps that offer lots of help for students. Some provide guidelines on writing research papers, conducting online searches, or navigating the stacksthe area of a library in which most of the books are shelved.

Of course, no one library can possibly own everything you might need or enough copies of each item, so groups of libraries share their materials with each other. If your college library does not have a journal or book that looks promising for your project, or the item you need is checked out, you can use interlibrary loan, a service that allows you to request an item at no charge from another library at a different college or university. The request process is simple, and the librarians can help you get started.

If it is difficult for you to get to your college library because of your commuting, family, work challenges, or time constraints, or because you are an online student who lives far from the actual campus and its library, you will still have off-campus, online access to library materials through a school-provided ID and password. You can also have online chats with librarians who can help you in real time. To learn more, check out your library’s website, or e-mail or phone the reference desk. Be sure to use the handouts and guides that are available at the reference desk or online. You will also find tutorials and virtual tours that will help you become familiar with the collections, services, and spaces available at your library.

Library of the Future? No, the Present! College libraries are changing to learning commons as information goes digital and space for group work becomes a priority. This facility merges the library, information technology, and classrooms and contains multiple zones for individual, small-group, and team-based learning. What does your college library offer?
Norma Jean Gargasz/Alamy Stock Photo

The 10-Minute Rule

If you have been working hard trying to locate information for a research project for 10 minutes and haven’t found what you need, don’t give up. Ask a librarian for help. Working with librarians shows that you are comfortable asking for help and smart enough to use resources available to youacts that build resilience and are good practice for the workplace, where you’ll often have to reach out to others when you need assistance. Let the librarian know what searches you’ve tried, and he or she will be able to help you figure out new strategies to get to the books, articles, and other sources you need. In addition, the librarian can help you develop strategies to improve your research and writing skills. Doing research without a librarian is like driving cross-country without using Google maps or a navigation systemtechnically, you can do it, but you will get lost along the way and may not get to your destination on time. Get to know at least one librarian as your go-to expert. College librarians are dedicated to helping students, and they are available to assist students in the library or online.

Library Resources


Many college-level research projects will require you to use a variety of sources to find information and do research. The most commonly used resources that college libraries offer are scholarly journals and periodicals, which include original, peer-reviewed research articles written by experts or researchers in a particular academic discipline.

Examples are the Journal of Educational Research and the Social Psychology Quarterly. The term peer-reviewed means that other experts in the field read and evaluate the articles in the journal before it is published. You can find scholarly articles by using an online databasea searchable set of information often organized by certain subject areasor your library’s catalog, an online resource accessible on or off campus. You may also be able to find some of the scholarly articles by using Google Scholar as your search engine. This is a specific part of Google that searches only within scholarly journal articles.

A periodical is a resource such as a journal, a magazine, or a newspaper that is published multiple times a year. Periodicals are designated either by date of publication or by annual volume numbers and issue numbers (based on the number of issues published in a given year). Peer-reviewed scholarly journals are of course periodicals, but most periodicals are classified as popular rather than scholarly. The articles in Rolling Stone (a periodical with a focus on politics and popular culture published twice each month) do not go through the peer-review process as do the articles in scholarly journals. Lack of peer review does not disqualify magazines as possible legitimate sources for your research, unless your assignment specifically requires all sources to be scholarly articles or books. Look back at Figure 9.1 for a breakdown of different types of sources.

Books are especially useful for research projects. Often students in introductory classes must write research papers on broad topics like the Civil War. While many scholarly articles have been written about the Civil War, they will not provide the kind of general overview of the topic that is available in books.

One of the biggest benefits of searching for books is the ability to browse. When you find your book on the shelf, look at the other books around it. They will be on the same topic. Many books are also available electronically; some of these e-books can be easily accessed online. Your college library may have books available in this format as well. You can browse the entire e-book chapters and even print a few pages.




Have a discussion with a group of your classmates to answer this question: Is the library a necessary resource for learning in college? Do the members of the group agree or disagree? Share your group’s ideas with others in the class. If possible, find some students who have been on campus considerably longer than you, and ask them about how they are making use of the library and librarians.