Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: How to Find Information

Verity Brack reviews a new practical guide for researchers wanting to improve their information skills and finds it a very useful addition.

This book is the result of efforts by the library at the University of Surrey (and the University of Surrey Roehampton) to improve library provision for researchers, and it is also based on the experience of 'front-line' library staff in their day-to-day interaction with academic staff and students. Anyone who has worked on a library help-desk or information point will recognise the content of this book, and will be pleased to find that there is now something that researchers can use to help themselves, all put together in a slim volume.

Sally Rumsey notes in the preface that Christopher West [1], in a response to a report by the Research Libraries Support Group in 2003 [2], said that

'the implication is that all HE researchers arrive, like Botticelli's Venus, fully-formed with advanced information skills... Everyone who works in HE libraries knows this isn't the case'

The book aims to address this problem, starting with a chapter on the information-gathering process and including short sections on defining the subject, and the purpose and scope of the research. Getting started can often be a bigger hurdle than it should be for researchers, and the hints and tips in this chapter are invaluable.

Chapter 2 covers using a library, something that one assumes researchers should already know but it can be surprising how little undergraduates use a library, and how little they know of its facilities, so new researchers may well find the information here of use. It explains briefly normal library services and resources, including special collections, goes into more detail about classification systems and number codes in use in a library (ISBN, call numbers etc.), and ends with sections on library catalogues, catalogue records and searching catalogues.

Chapter 3 covers the different types of format an information source can occur in, ranging from monographs, serials and other printed material, through electronic information, audio and video formats, to artefacts and people. The advantages and disadvantages of accessing and using these resources are discussed. The next chapter briefly pulls together useful sources for finding information on existing research, mentioning the UK research councils and other organisations.

Chapters 5-11 cover the standard steps in information seeking, from identifying the information need, resource discovery and searching, to locating and accessing the information. The chapter on resource discovery is particularly useful, offering explanations of abstracts and indexes, catalogues and bibliographies, and going into detail about using online databases, as well as understanding the results returned from such sources. Planning a search strategy for online searching has a chapter all to itself, which contains some excellent examples with tables and diagrams. Search strategies can be difficult to explain to users without actually demonstrating a live search, but Rumsey has provided a very clear set of instructions and guidelines. Citation searching also has its own chapter, as does using the Web for research (Chapter 10), which covers subject gateways, portals, search engines and directories, plus criteria for evaluating Web information. A discussion on access to materials, both physical and electronic, concludes this group of chapters.

The latter chapters of the book cover evaluation of sources in general, methods for citing references, the importance of keeping records of searches, and ways of managing your own bibliographic records. Intellectual property and copyright, and considerations of these issues in research comprise Chapter 15, which also has a brief section on plagiarism. Finally, Chapters 16 and 17 demonstrate how researchers can keep up to date with developments in their areas, and how the nature of the information landscape is changing.

As Rumsey stresses, the information landscape is undergoing enormous change, mostly due to the development of electronic sources and the growth of the Web; users have desktop access to these sources and so may be less likely to visit a library and consult an information professional than in the past. Consequently, information overload and inefficient searching can hamper research, even though researchers have access to more information resources than ever before. It is vitally important that modern researchers know about the types of resources available, understand how to use them efficiently, and manage their own bibliographic information efficiently.

There are few really practical books available for helping people along the road to information literacy so this publication is particularly timely when information literacy is a hot topic. The book is primarily aimed at new researchers and final year undergraduates who are writing dissertations but, in fact, this guide has a wider audience as it pulls together a lot of practical information, and is arranged so that users can dip in and out for what they want rather than having to read the book through from cover to cover - anyone who is not a researcher can ignore the research-specific parts.

It would be difficult, not to say impossible, to cover everything a researcher might need to know about finding information but this book has attempted to be as comprehensive as possible, and is written for researchers based in the UK in that it concentrates on UK resources. The addition of a section about the JISC data centres, services and projects [3] would have been useful; some services such as JISCmail are included but others, such as the Plagiarism Advisory Service, have been omitted. I am sure many readers will find that there are other information sources that are not mentioned in this book - maybe these could be included in a second edition? The many lists, diagrams, and tables in this book are also useful, as are the Web sites that helped create this book [4].

I would recommend this book to all new researchers, and also to existing researchers; even if you think your level of information literacy is high, I'm sure you will find something that you didn't know about!


  1. West, C. "Reactions to the Research Support Libraries Group: a view from Wales". The New Review of Academic Librarianship 8; 139-151, 2002
  2. RSLG (Research Support Libraries Group). Final Report. 2003. London: HEFCE (Higher Education funding Council for England) http://www.rslg.ac.uk/final/final.pdf
  3. The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Web site: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/
  4. The Researcher's Gateway, a dedicated Web site at the University of Surrey
    and the Researcher's Companion, an online tutorial in information retrieval

Author Details

Dr Verity Brack
Insititute for Lifelong Learning
University of Sheffield

Email: v.brack@shef.ac.uk

Return to top