Welcome to the virtual library instruction session for LAS 3002: Topics in Latin American Studies. My name is John Venecek, Humanities Librarian at UCF and liaison to the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.
These modules will walk you through the process of conducting research for this course while helping to refine your library skills. Each module will focus on a specific skill ranging from navigating subject databases, using effective keywords, evaluating scholarly resources, synthesizing resources, and using primary sources.
Let's begin with an overview of some basic library resources and services. This short video introduction will provide an overview of the following:
The Research Tips Thursdays video series
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Now let's move on to our first instructional video, Navigating Subject Databases
The UCF Libraries provides access to many high-quality subject databases that provide easy access to journal articles, books, conference papers, and other academic resources. While navigating these resources can be daunting at first, emphasizing a few key strategies can streamline your searches and take much of the stress out of conducting research.
Watch this video for an overview of how to navigate subject databases:
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Although I discuss the process of searching database in a linear manner, note that, in practice, literary research is often a highly recursive process. We’re constantly circling back through the process as we research. With this in mind, One of the cornerstones of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy is the concept of Searching as Strategic Exploration: “Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.”
Further, “The act of searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information. Encompassing inquiry, discovery, and serendipity, searching identifies both possible relevant sources as well as the means to access those sources.”
In other words, be open to the recursive nature of research and embrace the idea of navigating databases and other library resources as an act of strategic exploration that involves inquiry, discovery, and serendipity.
Before you begin searching, take some time to think about your keywords. This is a step that may students skip and, as a result, it’s easy to be led astray. Unlike common search engines, databases are not designed to handle long phrases and queries. They’re built around subject terms. If you have a research question in mind, break it into strategic keywords before you start searching and continue to refine those terms as you review your results. For a quick overview about how to generate keywords, please watch this short video:
Note the emphasis on breaking your research question into keywords and thinking strategically about synonyms. Here are some other key points to consider:
A key component of the Association of College and Research Libraries Framework or Information Literacy is the idea that Authority Is Constructed and Contextual. In other words, what makes a useful resource will differ by discipline and by the scope of your project. For example, currency, meaning the work was published more recently, is extremely important in the sciences but less so in the humanities where scholars work with old and classic texts.
As you conduct your literature review, consider criteria such as purpose, relevance, intended audience, and authority with what the ACRL calls an “attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought.” Effective researchers “understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations.”
Watch this short video for an overview of evaluating scholarly resources:
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Let’s review some of the main points from the video:
The CRAAP Test: Use this to glean some basic information including author affiliation as well as the journal’s history, policy, and procedures regarding submission guidelines, publishing schedule, editorial board, and their peer review process. The transparency of this kind of information says a lot about the credibility of the author and the journal.
Note that you’re an active participant in this process, not a passive receiver of information. Remember that those who read your paper want to know what you think and how you think. Show them how you think by leading them through a series of inferences. Imagine your work as a conversation with others in the field, be engaged and engaging, and always keep in mind why your argument is important.
In the intended audience section, I introduced the idea of the scholarly conversation. This analogy will be useful again as we discuss synthesizing resources. This concept can be difficult for undergraduate researchers who are naturally less experienced than the scholars they’re reading. Nevertheless, it will help to imagine yourself as a participant in the conversation as you synthesize your sources. Your readers want to know what you think and how you think. Demonstrate your thinking process by taking them on a tour through your research materials and leading them through a series of inferences. Always comment on quotes and incorporate them into your argument. Really think about conversing with others in the field, be engaged, tell your audience why this is so important.
For more about this concept, watch this short video on Creating the Ultimate Mashup: Synthesizing Information:
Differentiating between primary and secondary sources can be confusing. However, understanding a few key principles will make this distinction clearer. First, primary documents are the source material for an area of inquiry. They provide first-hand accounts of the events, practices, or conditions you are researching. Many of these documents will have been created during the time period by witnesses or recorders of the event(s) you are researching. These may include letters, diaries, journals, photographs, reports, newspaper records, and original creative works. However, some primary sources, such as memoirs, autobiographies, and orals histories, may be created later.
Types of Primary Sources
Determining what types of primary sources you need is another important step that can simplify your searching. To start, be sure you understand the assignment. This may sound obvious, but it’s a step that often overlooked by students who jump into research without fully understanding of the parameters of their project. However, before you start searching, it’s important to understand the requirements of the assignment, the type of paper you’re writing, the intended audience, and any other guidelines and expectations established by your instructor. These guidelines will help you determine what types of sources you need before you begin searching.
Think about what kinds of primary sources you need and what purpose they will serve within the context of your paper. Next, think strategically about how you might find the best sources for your project. Also, do you need an original object or will a reproduction suffice?
Differences by Discipline
There are some ways in which primary sources differ by disciple. Here’s a very brief overview of the most common variations:
History, Humanities, Social Sciences:
Primary sources in these areas include original records created at the time of the historical event occurred or events in the form of memoirs and oral histories.
Examples include: Letters, manuscripts, diaries, rare books, historical photographs, first-hand accounts of a subject, person, event or issue; newspapers written at the time of an event, music, film, and other creative works from period, maps, government documents, financial records, etc.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM):
Primary sources in these areas include original research, data sets, and statistics that have been tabulated but not yet interpreted. This is the raw material upon which future research will be built.
Examples include: Journal articles about the original research written by person or team who conducted the study, patents, conference papers, dissertations, technical reports, etc.
Stephen Wessen, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, wrote an insightful article about researching with primary sources in which he emphasized the importance of contextualizing the documents you find by situating them situating them in time and place. This is accomplished by asking critical questions about the sources and events being studied. These questions resemble the criteria we discussed above for evaluating secondary sources:
In his view, it’s important to identify types of sources and to establish context by applying these questions to each document. “Identifying the source and context of the items via a close look at details,” he says, “guides students to a deeper understanding of the movement in general.”
Let's watch this video tutorial with strategies for how to locate primary sources:
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Links to resources discussed in the video: