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A Beginner's Guide to Library Research

Once you've figured out the basics of the library, you'll need to develop a research plan, find some sources, choose the best ones, and use the information you've found to help write a research paper or report.

It is possible to find some good scholarly information by searching Google, but the best assortment of academic information at your disposal can be found through the campus library. The University of Winnipeg Library has a huge collection of books, journal articles, and other sources, on pretty much any topic imaginable. It’s important to get acquainted with this collection and the different methods of searching it.

Places to Search

  • WorldCat Local Search: This is the search box on the library homepage. It’s an excellent place to start. We’ll cover the basic features on this page.
  • Journal Search: You can find specific journal titles in the library collection with this search.
  • Library Databases: Our digital collections are available through services called databases. You can search each collection individually.

Try Searching

The best way to learn about library research is to try searching. Try a basic keyword search in WorldCat Local to start, then slowly try the other search methods as you get more comfortable.

Search Results

By default, WorldCat Local will search across libraries worldwide, with a preference for items available here at the University of Winnipeg. If you wish to only search this library’s collections, you can specify your search scope using the drop down menu.

A large variety of formats are available through this search. You can also limit the search scope by checking the applicable boxes in the left-hand column.


The library carries both print and digital books. Our print books are sorted by the Library of Congress Classification, which organizes them into subject categories for easy browsing. You can see the location information of any by clicking the Availability link, or by clicking the title and viewing the complete item record.

Item Record
Item Record

Our ebooks don’t have a physical location, but are available though one of our digital collections. Click View Now to see what collections have this book. You can view the item online, or in some cases, you can borrow a digital copy for a few days.

Journal Articles

Only a very small percentage of the library’s journals are still kept in print. The vast majority are available online through one of our subscription databases. Each of these databases covers a set of journals from particular publishers or about specific topics. WorldCat Local will also search some of these collections, although not all of them.

To access the full-text of an article, click View Now select one of the full-text options. Depending on the database, this will either open the item record with a PDF Full-text link, or the main page of the journal. If you only get the journal main page, you’ll need to navigate to the appropriate volume and page number.

View Now Link
View Now Link

Background Information

It’s often useful to get a good grasp on your topic before delving into your research. You can do this in a number of different ways, but the best is to find a good reference article, from an encyclopedia or dictionary, to give you the basic history, scope, and terminology, of your topic. Try searching for encyclopedia [subject area] to find out what reference works the library has. Then, look within that work to find an article relevant to your topic.

Topic Keyword Searching

Most of us are used to keyword searching from using tools like Google. It’s easy: enter the words you’d like to find, and Google does the rest. What many people don’t realize is that there are a few simple techniques to improve the results you get searching Google, or any other computer search system, including the library databases.

Tricks for Better Keyword Searching

Phrase Searching: placing quotation marks around phrases will search the exact phrase as opposed to each individual word. e.g. “pigeon behaviour”

Truncation: Use an asterisk to search for multiple endings of a term. e.g. psycholog*

AND: Narrow your search to include items that contain both/all terms. e.g. pigeons AND psycholog*

OR: Broaden your search to include synonyms or related concepts. e.g. pigeons OR doves

NOT: Narrow your search by eliminating items that contain certain unrelated terms. e.g pigeons NOT technology

Nesting: Join multiple searches together by nesting each within parentheses. e.g. (pigeons OR doves) AND (psycholog* OR behav*)

Searching for a Specific Source

There will be times when someone, whether a professor, another student, the media, or a related academic source, will recommend a certain book or article that’s useful to your research. Sometimes the recommendation will come as a full citation, with all the necessary publication information to help you find it. Other times, most often unfortunately, you will only have a bit of information to work with.

With a Citation/Reference

There are a few major citation styles (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) and they all will generally include the same information about the source. Here’s are two examples of APA citations, one book and one journal article:

Ellis, D. B. (2006). Becoming a master student. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Soria, K. M., Fransen, J., & Nackerud, S. (2013). Library use and undergraduate student outcomes: New evidence for students' retention and academic success. Portal : Libraries and the Academy, 13(2), 147-164. 

Having the full citation makes the task of tracking down the source easier. For a book, the simplest method is to do a title search for the item (eg. ti:…). If the book as a very common title, you can include the author search as well (eg. ti:… AND au:…).

For a journal article, the surest way to find it is to use the library’s journal search. Type in the exact title of the journal and you’ll see a list of database collections that have it and which years are covered by full-text. Choose a suitable database and use the navigation to open the proper volume and issue. You can also often search within the journal for the title or other keywords.

Without a Complete Citation/Reference

If you don’t have the exact citation information, you’ll need to do a little investigative work. Popular magazines and websites will frequently mention only the researcher’s names, their affiliation with a college or university, or if you’re lucky, the title of the article or journal. You can use whatever information you have to search online for the complete citation information.

If you’re ever unable to find a specific source, feel free to contact the library for help.


Databases Terms of Use