Library Resources

Two-story bookshelves in a library

“Untitled” by imelenchon. morgueFile.

The most well established way of finding research to support your ideas is to use the library. However, many students see the “library and its resources as imposing and intimidating, and are anxious about how they will manage in such an environment.”[1] Don’t let any twinge of anxiety keep you from exploring all that the library has to offer!

When conducting research, one of your best resources is the librarian. It is their job to know all about the resources available to you, and to help you succeed in locating the material that is most relevant to your assignment. Additionally, many libraries have librarians who specialize in particular areas of research and they will be able to help you find the best resources for your specific speech topic. Ideally, you should seek some information on your topic alone before asking for their assistance. Doing some initial research independently demonstrates to the librarian that you have taken ownership of the assignment and recognize that the research is ultimately your responsibility, not theirs. They will be better equipped to help you find new information if they know where you have already looked and what you have found. Most libraries contain at least three primary resources for information: books, periodicals, and full text databases.


library books on shelf

“Untitled” by KelseyVere. morgueFile.

Books are an excellent place to gain general knowledge. They contain comprehensive investigations of a subject in which authors can convey substantial amounts of information because they are not constrained by a strict page count. Some books are written by a single author while other books bring several scholars together in an edited collection. In both cases, you are likely to get a rich investigation of a single topic. For example, if you were giving a speech about stereotypes of black women in America, you might check out Melissa Harris-Perry’s 2011 book Sister Citizen, because she brings together literature, theory, and political science, to offer a detailed discussion of the development of four prominent stereotypes. In the book she has enough space to offer compelling images, narratives, and social scientific evidence for the impact those stereotypes have on contemporary society.

A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life. – Henry Ward Beecher

Most libraries make finding books easy by indexing them in an online catalog. You should be able to go to the library’s website and simply search for your topic. The index will provide the titles, authors, and other publication information for each book. It will also provide a call number. The call number is like an address for the book that indicates where it can be found on the stacks in the library. Before going to the stacks, take note of the title, author, and call number. The call number is the most important element, and the title and author will serve as backup for your search if you find that the books are out of order. If you find a book that is helpful, be sure to check the shelf nearby to see if there are other promising titles on that topic. If you cannot find the book that you are looking for, consider asking the librarian to help you borrow it from another library using a process called interlibrary loan.

The length of a book can make it seem overwhelming to someone researching a brief speech. In order to streamline your research, determine what you are looking for in advance. Are you seeking general background knowledge or support for a specific idea? Use the table of contents, headings, and index to guide you to the portion of the book that is likely to have what you are looking for. You do not need to read, or even skim, the entirety of every book. It is appropriate to skim for key words and phrases that pertain to your topic. Just be sure that once you find what you are looking for, you read enough of the section around it to understand the context of the statement and ensure that the book is making the point you think it is. Take note of the point that the book is making. Careful notes will help you remember the information that you gained from each source when you get home.

In addition to the traditional stacks of books present in your library, you will also find a reference section. This section contains books that do not delve deep into any subject, but provide basic summary knowledge on a variety of topics. The reference section contains books like dictionaries, which help define unfamiliar terms; encyclopedias, which provide overviews of various subjects; abstracts, which summarize books and articles; and biographical references, which describe people and their accomplishments. Since these resources do not require extensive time to process, and they are likely to be used briefly but regularly by many visitors, the library generally will not allow you to check out reference material. Take great care in drafting notes on the information that you find, and writing down the page numbers and authors according to the style preferred in your field of study. For more information on what you will need to record see the “style guides” section of this chapter.


Books are comprehensive, but they can take years to get published. This means that the material in books is often at least a year old by the time of its publication date. If your speech depends on more recent information, you should turn to periodicals. Periodicals include magazines, newspapers, journals, and other publications printed at predictable intervals. These publications may appear weekly, monthly, or quarterly to update the research in a given field. Each periodical will offer a variety of articles related to a specific subject area.

When researching, it is important to understand the difference between general interest periodicals and scholarly research journals. General interest periodicals include magazines and newspapers which provide a wide array of knowledge and keep readers up to date on the news within a larger cultural context. These publications are targeted toward the general public and they often use pictures and advertising to attract attention. Examples of respected general interest publications include The Atlantic, Women’s Health, The New York Times, and National Geographic.[2] These publications are intended for profit. The information in them is edited to make sure it will appeal to the audience, is well written, and consistent with the commercial goals of the publication. General interest periodicals are good for context and current events information. If you are giving a speech about the importance of military intervention in Syria, you could use a general interest periodical like the New York Times to discover the most recent information on the conflict.

A newspaper is a circulating library with high blood pressure. – Arthur Baer

If you are looking for more rigorous research, such as an international relations expert detailing what forms of aid are best for nations experiencing uprisings, you will need a scholarly research journal. A scholarly research journal is not for profit. It is designed to publicize the best research in a particular area. These publications are targeted toward scholars who specialize in a given subject or type of research. Examples of respected scholarly journals include Journal of the American Medical Association, Harvard Law Review, and Quarterly Journal of Speech. These journals engage in a process of peer review in which scholars send their articles to the editor and the editor has other experts in the field examine the article to determine the quality of its research, writing, and fit with the scholarly goal of the publication.

Full-Text Databases

man reading newspaper

“Reading” by Moyan Brenn. CC-BY.

Rather than searching for a print copy of the latest periodical, many people now find articles on the computer using specialized electronic databases that contain the full text of periodicals. Most school libraries subscribe to a variety of databases which compile articles from journals within a particular specialization, industry, or field. Libraries tend to organize links to these databases on their website in two ways: (1) by the area of specialization, or (2) by the name of the database. You can use the list of specializations to identify databases that will pertain to your topic. For example, if you are interested in research on The Simpsons, you might go to your library’s subject list, click on “Communication,” and choose a database such as Communication and Mass Media Complete. Some topics will be found in databases with less obvious titles. For example, the abstractly named Lexis-Nexis database provides access to newspaper articles, legal research, and government documents. If your initial search of databases in the list of specializations is not fruitful, ask your professor or librarian for recommendations concerning the most appropriate database for your topic.

Full-text databases allow you access to the citations, abstracts, and articles in the journals they index. However, they sometimes limit access to the full text of articles that were published within a certain date range. If you find a title that looks promising, but is not available in the database you are searching, try the search in another database. Databases often give you the opportunity to search for articles matching your desired time period, author, publication, or key words. Some databases, such as EBSCO, allow you to specify whether you are looking for general interest or scholarly publications.

Table 7.1: Follow the Citation Trail
If you are having trouble locating information on your topic, all you need is one relevant scholarly source and then you can follow the clues to locate more information by searching backward and forward.
To search backward, skim the source’s bibliography for earlier publications on your topic. To search forward, use Google Scholar’s “cited by” function to find more recent publications on your topic.

  1. Leckie, G.J. (1996). Desperately seeking citations: Uncovering faculty assumptions about the undergraduate research process. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 22(3), p. 201–208.
  2. American Society of Magazine Editors. (2011). 2011 National Magazine Awards, Winners, and Finalists. Retrieved from: