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SSI2-146: The Good Life

Choosing the Best Finding Aids

A good starting point for academic work is one or more of the many databases available through the library's website. Databases provide access and content to sources that are generally not available on the open web through a general search engine like Google.

Every database contains only certain types and amounts of information. There is no single database or web search interface that will work for every research context; instead, you'll need to match your specific research needs to a variety of options.

Library catalog searches (i.e., Primo) can be the better choice when you are seeking in-depth, book-length treatments of a topic. Because so much material is cataloged in Primo, you will need to use limiters and Library of Congress Subject Headings to focus your search.

Multidisciplinary databases cover a wide variety of subject areas and may include a mix of popular and scholarly sources. They can be good resources when your research requires multiple disciplinary perspectives or a variety of source types. JSTOR is an example of a multidisciplinary database.

Subject databases cover a specific discipline and provide the widest range of access to scholarly sources. They are used for in-depth research. They are also especially useful when you know you need to find scholarly work written within a specific disciplinary framework. The Philosopher's Index is an example of a subject database. Which subject databases you search will be determined by who may be writing about your topic. 

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Strategies for Finding Books

1. Start with specific titles suggested in subject encyclopedia entries.

2. Identify the Library of Congress Subject Headings for that book to identify more books on the topic.

  • To do this, check the "Item Details" and simply click on one of the subject headings listed in the record for the book; the next screen will list all the books that share this subject term.

3. If required for your assignment, make sure that the book is scholarly. 

4. To find eBooks, use the filters on the right to limit your results to eBooks (under "Resource Type")

Featured Books

Is it scholarly?

Here are some clues to look for in the catalog record when you are evaluating whether a book is scholarly or popular:

  • The publisher is either a university press or an academic publisher (such as Routledge, Wiley, Blackwell, etc.).
  • The description of the book includes "notes and references."

When you have the book in hand, and still aren't sure if it is scholarly, you might want to do a little more digging, perhaps with a couple of quick Google searches:

  • Who is the author? What are the author's credentials or other sources of expertise?
  • Does the publisher have a website? If so, what types of books does it publish and what is the process for submitting work for consideration?

Recommended Databases

Selected articles subscribed to by Collins Library are available in Primo, but you'll want to search individual databases for more comprehensive results. These subject databases are especially useful for identifying work by philosophers and social psychologists.


These additional subject databases may be useful for investigating different disciplinary approaches to your topic.

Multidisciplinary Databases

The databases listed below are examples of multidisciplinary finding aids.

Note: If you need discipline-specific resources, it is better to use the recommended subject databases under the "articles" tab in the library subject guides

General Database Search Tips

Try these strategies to become a better, more efficient searcher -- and help you find articles that you can actually use:

  • Build your search vocabulary -- keep a running list of key words, phrases, concepts, synonyms, and any related terms or ideas that you find.
  • Use advanced search features -- narrow your search with "AND," expand your search with "OR," or search in specified fields (i.e., author, title, publication, abstract).
  • Use search limits -- control the types of results you get (academic journals? language?) and how they are displayed (date? relevance?) so that you're only looking at results you can use.
  • Try multiple searches and evaluate your results -- try to figure out why you got the results you did, and adjust your search until you get closer to results you can use.
  • Use database descriptors -- once you find an article that looks good, see what descriptors or "subject headings" were assigned to it in the database. You can use these to search only for articles that have the same descriptors attached.

Tipasa: Interlibrary Loan

If your article is not available at Collins Library, you've got another option for getting it. Use Tipasa, our interlibrary loan service.

Tipasa is linked to your library account so you'll need to log in to use it.

Once you are logged in, either go directly to Tipasa and manually enter the information, or, if you're using a database, look for a shortcut link to automatically fill out the form:

Interlibrary Loan Link

Allow at least a week for the article to come. If your article is delivered in electronic format, you'll receive an email with a link to follow as soon as it's arrived.

Comparing Discovery Tools

Search for scholarly arguments in philosophy and psychology in the databases listed below. You can choose to search any of the topics available for the second paper or any themes related to the course: the good life, happiness and virtue, flourishing, emotions, human diversity, etc.

Working in small groups, answer these questions for both Philosopher's Index and PsycInfo.  If you have time, you might also want to try out different discovery tools like JSTOR, Primo, or Academic Search Premier.

  1. Search terms used.  You can start with keywords, but identify the subject headings as soon as you can.
  2. What types of materials are included and/or indexed in the database?  Journal articles, books, all of the above?
  3. What are the date ranges of coverage?  How current is the information?
  4. Are there ways to limit the searches to particular kinds of sources or approaches?
  5. How can you get to the full text of articles?
  6. How can you save an article for later or send it to yourself?
  7. Are there any tools to help you cite articles?

Different discovery tools have different interfaces, but they all have advanced search features, and filters to limit your results. We will come back together for discussion and each group will share with the class their answers to the questions above.