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The Strategic Guide to Quality Information in Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Medicine, Physics, and Psychology

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Information Strategy--Step 3: Locate

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At this point in the Information Strategy, you will have (Step 2) a list of articles, books, government documents, or other publications that look like they are useful for the topic you want to find information about. Step 3 of the Strategy involves actually getting copies of those articles, books, and other publications.

Where to start?

The best place to start is at your local library. It may be a public library or it may be a library at a college or university, a hospital, or other organization. If you're fortunate, you may live near more than one library.

These days, the library's catalog of the books on its shelves, journals and magazines it subscribes to, and so on is often available online. Like the indexes and abstracts available online (talked about in Step 2), searching a library's catalog online gives you capabilities not available with the traditional (paper) card catalog.

However, whether the catalog is available online or still uses paper cards, you should be able to search for the journals or magazines, books, and other publications on your list by their titles.

  • A word of caution ...

    Do not search the library's catalog using the title of an article to see if that article is available at that library. That's not to say that libraries never catalog individual journal or magazine articles; some do, but most do not. Search the catalog by journal or magazine title to determine whether the library has the issue of the journal or magazine in which that article appears.

At this point, you should also ask a reference librarian if that library subscribes to any services that provide online access to the full text of articles from magazines and journals and/or the complete text of books--many libraries have chosen this option. If the library does provide access to these services (and you are eligible to use them), you may be able to get copies of some of the articles and even the books and other publications you are looking for that way.

Please remember to ask the reference librarian about the availability of these services and any other questions you have. Due to the way they are made available, the individual magazines, journals, and books that are included within these online services are sometimes not listed as part of the library's catalog.

What alternatives do you have if your local library does not have some of the books, articles, documents, etc. on your list?

  1. Check and see if that library offers an interlibrary loan service. Through interlibrary loan, you can obtain a copy of or borrow the publication you need from another library.

    Ask if you are eligible to do interlibrary loan at that library, and if there are any fees attached to the service.

    Interlibrary loan takes time. Publications you request today likely won't be at the library waiting for you tomorrow. While copies of individual articles are sometimes sent electronically (FAX, Ariel, etc.) and may indeed arrive pretty quickly (from several hours to a few days), books and other bound publications are still generally sent via regular mail and can take many days to arrive. Added on top of that is the time it takes for the sending library to respond to the original request and your local library to process the item once it has arrived.

    All in all, you should generally plan on at least 2 weeks between the time you submit your interlibrary loan request and the time when the item is ready for you to pick up.

    Sometimes, items requested via interlibrary loan are just not obtainable in that way ... which leads to a second option.

  2. Check and see if your local library provides online access to the catalogs of other libraries.

    If your library has made their own catalog available online, they may offer the same access to the catalogs of other libraries (with similar capabilities) within driving distance. You can check and see if the journal, magazine, book, etc. not available locally is available at one of these other libraries. You may decide to travel to that library especially if it holds many items that you need that are not available locally.

    A word of caution for this second option--don't assume that you will be able to check materials out of the library you travel to just as you check materials out at your local library. Sometimes you can; many times though, you cannot.

  3. Try the links Free Full Text Journal and Magazine Articles and Free Full Text Books, Preprints, Documents, Patents, and Reports. It may be something of a long shot that the article or book you need is available in this way, but it's possible and it will only take a few minutes to check.

Questions? Please let me know.

Go To ...


Information Strategy--printable copy
(in PDF; requires the Adobe® Acrobat® Reader™)

Information Strategy--PowerPoint Slides

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Updated 4:00 p.m. CT August 20, 2004
Kevin Engel (
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