ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
Too often, students have the idea that books make poor sources in research papers because they are hard to find and, well, too long. I hope that this lesson shows that books aren't hard to find. While it's true that books are longer than newspaper articles, the word count is likely to be proportional to the research value. Also, don't forget, for research reports in this course, citations more than 10 pages apart are counted by Dr. G as separate sources. Hence, for source count purposes, a book can equal a number of articles.
It's never been easier to find and
order books online
Here's bad news about ProQuest, InfoTrac and other academic databases: articles in periodicals are not always the best sources. Books, very often, are better--not only more comprehensive and more complete but more friendly in introducing their subject matter to nonspecialist readers like us. There are book reviews in ProQuest and InfoTrac, but there are very few books.
Nobody yet has undertaken the massive project of comprehensively scanning all of the world's books into an electronic database. One reason is copyright law protection; in the USA, books can't be re-published without permission until 70 years after their authors' deaths. Many old books that have no copyright protection have been scanned into databases, where they now are distributed over the internet, but obviously this information is old and usually stale. For example, free online translations are available for Plato's dialogues, and also for almost all ancient Greek and Roman literature, but these translations are 100 years old or older, so their English seems stiff and alien to us today. (The Jowett translations of Plato are a good example. They're Victorian, so they show you ancient Greek literature through the antique reading glasses of a nineteenth-century British academic.)
For current books, some titles published in the last couple of years have been issued as "ebooks" (electronic releases), but there are no lending libraries for ebooks. A library of that sort might cause as much piracy in book publishing as Napster did in music publishing. New books that are released in free electronic form are rare, and library collections of electronic books are small.
In other words, in this new Internet Age of ours, physical books and physical libraries show no signs of dying out. Instead of superseding libraries and ending the Gutenberg era--which I confidently predicted a decade ago--the internet has become a kind of head librarian. It knows a lot more than anybody about books--what's in them, where they're located, and how to order. Whether students are on campus or online or on vacation, the head librarian is close at hand.
But enough generalities already! Let's talk about the practical "how to" for books. It's really very simple.
Searching the catalog. How do you know what books are available in the collection at TC3? Start online at the TC3 Library Gateway and select "Find Books and Media." You will see a menu of options for obtaining books, starting with "TC3 Library Catalogue" (for print books owned by TC3) and NetLibrary (for ebooks or electronic books licensed by TC3).
The library catalog has its own search engine, which can be searched by author, title, or subject. For example, in the keyword search field, try entering "Socrates," and you will call up a list of about a dozen sources (as of October 2005) .One of these is The Trial and Execution of Socrates by Thomas Brickhouse. Click on it, and you will retrieve the full database record for this book--more than the citation information that you would find in an MLA works cited list. In this case, the facts that Brickhouse's book was published by an academic publisher (Oxford University Press), and in a recent year (2002), and with "bibliographical information" (that is, a works cited list or comparable documentation of sources), screams that this book is an essential source for any academic study of Socrates' trial or death. The library database record also shows the "subject headings" under which the book has been cataloged by the librarians; these headings suggest search terms that you can put into the search engine to turn up additional sources at the TC3 library.
Borrowing from TC3 Library The database record in the TC3 Library Catalog also includes the "call number," a unique identifying number, so that you can find the book on the library shelf. (Shelf maps are available in the library, and call number markers are clearly posted on the bookshelves.) In the database record, clicking on the call number shows the book's availability. The title may or may not circulate. (One that does not circulate must be read at the library; it can't be taken out.) A book currently may or may not have been checked out by another library patron. If a circulating book has not been checked out already, the catalog allows you to place a "hold" on it so that it will not be checked out while you travel to the library to pick it up. What could be easier?
NetLibrary (ebooks) at TC3. In some fields of study, such as medicine, health care, and business, there are significant sources in NetLibrary. Under "Plato," however, search results (as of February 2004) return only some Jowett translations! Most of the titles in NetLibrary in fact can be found in free sites online. A NetLibrary search requires a user name and password for access, but enrolled students are entitled to sign up and enter.
3. Books (and articles) available through interlibrary loan
TC3's library is small but mighty. In fact, it provides almost every book in the world, because of interlibrary loan. That is, TC3 Library can borrow books for you from other libraries worldwide. The order can be placed online, using the forms provided on the TC3 interlibrary loan page: simply fill in author name, title, date of publication, and if possible a reference to the source where you found your information about the book. Most orders are filled in 2-7 days, and you are notified by email when your order has arrived and is waiting for you at the TC3 Library.
By the way, you can also order articles from periodicals through interlibrary loan. When a search in ProQuest or InfoTrac turns up only an abstract without a "full text" version of the article, use interlibrary loan to get the full text.
Searching WorldCat for the whole world's books. How do you know what books are available from other libraries? The best answer is WorldCat. From the TC3 Library Gateway. select Find Books and Media, and then under "Books and Media that TC3 Doesn't Own," select WorldCat. The interface is a search engine very much like that in ProQuest or InfoTrac. The data base is enormous. If you search for "Socrates," restricting the search only to "books, " and only to the English language, you turn up over 2,700 hits, listed in the order of the number of libraries that have the book. (I.F. Stone's book unfortunately came out on top! I guess it shows that librarians don't always know everything, after all.)
What do you do with a search that returns 2,700 hits? Narrow the search terms to get a list that is practical for you to read through. When I restricted my search to Socrates AND Plato AND Death, the machine returned only 87 titles (as of February 2004). When I further restricted the search to years of publication between 1990 and 2004, WorldCat could find only 13 titles. As shown below, a list of that length is manageable to read through to decide which books, if any, should be ordered from interlibrary loan:
trial and execution of Socrates :sources and controversies /
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 521 TOMPKINS-CORTLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE
death of Socrates and the life of philosophy :an interpretation of
Plato's Phaedo /
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 437
rationalism and political philosophy :an interpretation of Plato's
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 350
Exploring philosophy :an introductory anthology /
Author: Cahn, Steven M. Publication: New York : Oxford University Press, 2000
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 271
v. law in Greek political thought /
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 234
The riddle of Nostradamus :a critical dialogue /
Author: Dumézil, Georges, 1898- Publication: Baltimore, Md. : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 178
Science, mind, and art :essays on science and the humanistic understanding in art, epistemology, religion, and ethics in honor of Robert S. Cohen /
Author: Cohen, R. S.; Gavroglou, Kostas., and others Publication: Dordrecht ; Boston : Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 147
A guided tour of five works by Plato :with complete translations of Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo (death scene), and "Allegory of the Cave" /
Author: Biffle, Christopher.; Plato. Publication: Mountain View, Calif. : Mayfield Pub. Co., 1995
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 51
great works of philosophy.
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 27
A guided tour of five works by Plato :with complete translations of Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo (The death scene), and "Allegory of the Cave" /
Author: Biffle, Christopher.; Plato. Publication: Mountain View, Calif. : Mayfield Pub. Co., 2001
Document: English : Book Libraries Worldwide: 40
Of course, ordering 13 books through interlibrary loan is impractical because there's not enough time in the semester to read that much material. So which of these books are likely to be most interesting? I can eliminate some of them on the basis of the information that's provided in WorldCat's catalog. (For example, I know that I'm not interested in Nostradamus or in an anthology of philosophy readings, and I see that I have come up with two different editions of Biffle's A Guided Tour.). Still, after those obvious exclusions, there are too many books remaining on the list. I want to pick the best one or two or three that I'll have time to read. If I could only browse these books a bit, I would know which ones looked the best for my research area.
4. How to browse books online at Amazon.com
Browsing online is now a possibility, for many books in print, at the web site of commercial bookseller Amazon.com. The software on this site is indeed amazing.
Let's suppose that I want to find more information about the second book in my WorldCat list, Professor Peter J. Ahrensdorf's The Death of Socrates and the Life of Philosophy. At the search engine on Amazon's home page, I type in the book title and pull up the search results. Among Amazon's other information about Ahrensdorf's book, there's an icon saying "look inside." [See figure left.] When I click this icon to look inside, I see the book's table of contents, its first fourteen pages, and its complete index--all of the clues that I need to decide whether this book will be useful to me in my research.
Even more amazing, Amazon now is loading whole texts of books into its searchable database. Instead of asking Amazon's search engine for "Ahrensdorf" or "The Death of Socrates and the Life of Philosophy," simply type some key words for your research topic and get results based on text scans. When I asked for "Greek mystery religion" AND "Socrates," Amazon gave me 25 book titles in which those words appeared proximate to one another in the text. For example, the first on the list was Richard Tarnas' history of philosophy, The Passion of the Western Mind. Unfortunately in this case, the machine's excerpt from Tarnas was suggestive but too brief and too condensed to determine whether this book might be an important source in my research:
The text-search program does not yet know how to read and quote like a human or even like a high school student. Nevertheless it's often good enough to generate possible leads for research.
Amazon's software remembers what you have searched for on the site, and it suggests other titles that may interest you. Of course, the suggestions may or may not be reasonable: it may simply recommend other books by the same author, other titles on the same subject, or books that commonly are bought by people who have searched what you have searched.
Amazon is a bookseller, and, naturally, it would like to make a sale to you. But you don't have to be a customer to use the site's amazing search engine. Find your book at Amazon and order it for free through interlibrary loan!
Left with apparent headache: Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), author of the Victorian British translations of Plato that you will find online at MIT's Internet Classics Library and elsewhere on the internet.
Most scrolls arrive within three business days..
Note that WorldCat automatically flags books in TC3's collection.
The entries can be listed by the number of libraries that have the book; this gives a rough idea of the relative importance (at least to librarians)