5a- Searching for Sources: Keywords, Databases, Catalogs, and Shelves

In most all libraries today, ini­tial research is con­duct­ed at a com­put­er ter­mi­nal.  We advise that you make an appoint­ment with the ref­er­ence librar­i­ans at your library.  The librar­i­ans will be more than hap­py to illus­trate to you some of the best ways to con­duct research using the online sys­tem spe­cif­ic to your col­lege or university.

But before going to the library and meet­ing with librar­i­ans, it is a good idea for you to be pre­pared by learn­ing how to iden­ti­fy rel­e­vant key words for a data­base search.  Because of the per­son­al and local nature of your research projects, there will be very few sources that auto­mat­i­cal­ly match your research focus or site.  You will have to think cre­ative­ly about which key words you may use in order to gath­er sources that may, in some way, help you think about your research.

Up to this point, it is most like­ly that any library research you con­duct­ed was pret­ty straight­for­ward.  You took the “top­ic” in ques­tion, typed it in the appro­pri­ate box, hit return, and found any num­ber of sources.  Key word top­ics such as abor­tion, gun con­trol, euthana­sia, and can­cer research may yield hun­dreds of hits.  How­ev­er, if you were to type dog park, Pol­ish dance troupe, par­ty store, smok­ing lounge, or drag king show, it is doubt­ful your search would reveal any aca­d­e­m­ic sources what­so­ev­er.  At best, you will dis­cov­er a list of arti­cles from pop­u­lar sources such as mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, cof­fee table books and infor­ma­tion­al guides.  Under­stand that there is actu­al­ly noth­ing wrong with gath­er­ing and read­ing these sources.  Often, they can tell us a great deal about pop­u­lar beliefs.  But, as such, they are under­stood as pri­ma­ry or pop­u­lar, not sec­ondary or ref­er­eed, research sources.  They reflect cur­rent, pop­u­lar under­stand­ing of a top­ic, not aca­d­e­m­ic con­sid­er­a­tion of a research site.  In this chap­ter we are focus­ing on aca­d­e­m­ic per­spec­tives as they will be required in order to com­pose your final ethno­graph­ic essay/project.

Because there will most like­ly not be any sources that specif­i­cal­ly dis­cuss your research site, when think­ing about your own research project you need to move from the specifics of the site to more gen­er­al rela­tion­ships between your research and oth­er aca­d­e­m­ic ideas.  You need to think about what hap­pens in your site, who spends time in your site and why they may do so in order to pro­duce a list of alter­nate key words.

It is not unusu­al to choose obscure, or less-well-researched sites. When this is the case, you must con­sid­er some of the larg­er ideas that may inform the cre­ation of the sites, and to think about ways of cat­e­go­riz­ing the action that occurs in the spe­cif­ic site.  You need to “get cre­ative” about how you might think about your site and what kinds of aca­d­e­m­ic con­ver­sa­tions might help you with your analy­sis. Below you’ll find a list of ques­tions you may ask that will pro­vide key terms for cre­ative research:

  • What ele­ments are most obvi­ous in this place/site?
  • What sort of cul­ture is vis­i­ble here?
  • Who inter­acts with whom and where does the inter­ac­tion take place?
  • What’s the larg­er con­text for the creation/identification of this space/site?
  • What is the pur­pose of this place?
  • How does this place affect indi­vid­ual identity?

Take a look at two lists pro­duced by answer­ing the ques­tions list­ed above when think­ing about two fair­ly obscure (aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly speak­ing) research sites: dog park and smok­ing lounge.  Were you to type in the words dog, park, smok­ing, or lounge chances are you would be pre­sent­ed with a long list of sources, most of which we would clas­si­fy as infor­ma­tion­al.  These sources may assist with some basic back­ground infor­ma­tion, but they will prob­a­bly do lit­tle to help you think about what hap­pens in each site, why peo­ple behave as they do and what all that may mean with respect to cul­ture. When you think about the ques­tions above, dif­fer­ent options for research present themselves:

Dog Park
Pets and exercise
Pet culture
Strangers inter­act outside
Own­ers relate with each other
City/urban space
Come to give dogs a place to play
Iden­ti­ty as pet owners

Smok­ing Lounge
Tobac­co and relaxation
Smok­er culture
Strangers inter­act inside
Smok­ers relate with each other
Space cre­at­ed fol­low­ing legislation
Come to give selves a place to smoke
Iden­ti­ty as smokers

Pay par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the par­al­lelisms that can be cre­at­ed between these lists.  Note that despite the fact that these are very dif­fer­ent places, each one has a cul­ture, each one involved inter­ac­tion regard­ing insid­ers and out­siders, each one con­nects with and reflects a par­tic­u­lar use of space, each one has a pur­pose and each one helps to affect and effect iden­ti­ty.  This list is by no means inclu­sive regard­ing all the pos­si­ble direc­tions for research.  The list is a start­ing point for con­sid­er­ing how to think “out­side the box” to find aca­d­e­m­ic sources, to iden­ti­fy an aca­d­e­m­ic con­ver­sa­tion in sec­ondary sources to which you can con­nect your own pri­ma­ry research and data col­lec­tion.  Is it a larg­er con­nec­tion to iden­ti­ty?  To space?  To pow­er?  The deci­sion is yours.  There is no wrong answer, but it’s also true that some direc­tions are more fruit­ful than oth­ers.  How to know where to focus your atten­tion?  Start with the list and then take the words and ideas list­ed here and trans­late them from your under­stand­ing of how to answer these ques­tions to the for­mat of a web-based cat­a­logue search.

Exam­ine more specif­i­cal­ly the phras­es list­ed with respect to Dog Park.  The word cul­ture is always an advis­able place to begin when con­duct­ing sec­ondary ethno­graph­ic research.  Use a Boolean search on your web/computer library data base and type the words: pet and cul­ture.  As a ref­er­ence librar­i­an would tell you, the use of the con­junc­tion “and” means the com­put­er will search for entries using both the words pet and cul­ture.  You can use this com­bi­na­tion of your key words and cul­ture in a vari­ety of ways. In the Dog Park exam­ple, you could con­tin­ue with urban space and cul­ture, iden­ti­ty and pets and cul­ture, stranger inter­ac­tion and cul­ture and others.

Oth­er great words to use may be any of the words used in the titles of chap­ters 10–13 place, space, reflex­iv­i­ty, iden­ti­ty, rit­u­al, sym­bol, author­ship, and rep­re­sen­ta­tion.  In addi­tion, try com­bi­na­tions with the terms: com­mu­ni­ty, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, inter­ac­tion, gen­der, race, urban, rur­al, sub­al­tern, sub­cul­ture, work, play, recre­ation, social, writ­ing and ethnog­ra­phy for your consideration.

In data­base search forms, there are typ­i­cal­ly ways to nar­row your search, fore exam­ple by date, by jour­nal, by field, etc. If you look close­ly, you should also be able to select a func­tion that only seeks “ref­er­eed” or “peer-reviewed” pieces. These are the arti­cles and books that con­tain both lists of key­words and of ref­er­ences that may help you in your search. As you locate key words and aca­d­e­m­ic texts you think will be of help, it is always a good idea iden­ti­fy the oth­er key words and terms under which your sources have been list­ed.  When you pull up the full data­base record for the source you will typ­i­cal­ly see a list of Library of Con­gress Sub­ject Head­ings (LCSH), which iden­ti­fies the con­trolled vocab­u­lary used by the Library of Con­gress to iden­ti­fy the types of sub­jects in which your source is cat­e­go­rized. This list is invalu­able because it pro­vides addi­tion­al key words and sub­ject head­ings for your own search. If you find a source that seems par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant to your research, note the LCSH secret code words as well as any list of ref­er­ences or cita­tions for that source and use them to con­tin­ue your search. For exam­ple, in hav­ing iden­ti­fied a source as aca­d­e­m­ic (by virtue of the pub­lish­er and title and actu­al­ly going to retrieve the source to ver­i­fy it), and giv­en an under­stand­ing of how library cat­a­loging is orga­nized, you know that search­es under city/urban space and/or cul­ture would also yield mul­ti­ple aca­d­e­m­ic sources, as would strangers and cul­tur­al interaction.

It is impor­tant to remem­ber that your goal in con­duct­ing this research is not only to locate a stack of sources, but also to become famil­iar with the words and terms that are used to orga­nize and clas­si­fy aca­d­e­m­ic sources.  It is most like­ly that the terms and words you learn from these bib­li­o­graph­ic entries are not a part of your own dai­ly lex­i­con.  As you con­duct research, you need to work to trans­late the words and ideas you have regard­ing your research project into more aca­d­e­m­ic dis­course.  This will not only make the research process eas­i­er for you, but also avail you to a vocab­u­lary and a way of think­ing and writ­ing about your top­ic that will place your ideas with­in an aca­d­e­m­ic conversation.