Indexes and abstracts

Indexes and abstracts supplement the library catalog as described by Bopp and Smith (1995):

Users may come into a library, consult the main catalog, and falsely assume they have searched the entire contents of the library. The catalog may confirm the holdings of a periodical [magazine or journal] but not its contents; a poetry collection but not individual poems; the title of an author's collected works but not the individual work; newspapers but not individual news stories. Indexes and abstracts are created and become extremely useful tools to more fully reveal detailed resources not covered in the more general catalog.

For most research papers at the college level, you'll want to look for scholarly journal articles about your chosen topic. Indexes are the tools you'll use for this purpose, and if you're lucky, your library will have some indexes either loaded in the online library catalog or available on CD-ROM. Searching indexes is different than searching the library catalog, however, because indexes don't use the same subject classifications as the library catalog. Some indexes provide

books of "descriptors" to help you search for key words and key concepts by which the items have been indexed.

Be aware that indexes will contain items not held at your library, because they are prepared by commercial companies that index a particular group of periodicals or works regardless of where they may be held. A periodical index is most useful if it contains abstracts--brief summaries of the articles. Abstracts make it easier to tell if the article is relevant to the subject of your research.

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