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SSI2-111: Life, Death, and Meaning: Finding Secondary Sources

Discovery Tools for This Course

Selecting the best or most appropriate finding aid for identifying sources depends almost entirely on the context of your research project.  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. What are the best discovery tools for this research paper?  First consider the source requirements:

For your research project in this course, you will need to identify and use at least two secondary sources (in addition to course readings) that meet the requirements below:

  • The sources must be scholarly. 
  • The sources must offer a philosophical argument. 

Your sources may be journal articles, books, essays in books, or any combination of these types of sources.

The need for scholarly sources automatically reduces the number of eligible databases. The need for philosophical arguments reduces the list further.

Search Primo

Search Collins+Summit+Articles

Reading a Call Number

Collins Library uses the Library of Congress classification scheme to organize books on the shelves. Follow these tips to find the book you need.


Primo book example

  • Start with the top line. It is in alphabetical order. Ex. BJ
  • The second line is a whole number.  Ex. 1481
  • The third line is  a combination of a letter and numbers. Read the letter alphabetically. Read the number as a decimal, eg. Y.23, Y.34, Y.344, Y.4, etc. Ex. B64 (*Some call numbers have more than one combination letter-number line.)
  • The last line is the year the book was published. Read in chronological order. Ex. 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015, etc. Ex. 2011

Use the library location chart and map to find where the book is located.

Featured Books

A sampling of potentially relevant books is listed below.

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 philosophical topics.

Comparing Discovery Tools

Search for scholarly philosophical arguments in the databases listed below.  You can choose to search any of the themes of this course:  happiness, the meaning of life, freedom, death and immortality, the absurd, etc.

Answer these questions about the tool your group used in this Google Doc: 

Database Searching for Philosophical Arguments

  1. Search terms used.
  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 include just philosophical arguments?
  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. 

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 -- 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.

Reading a Citation

When reading a citation, break it down into parts. Check out the color-coded example for MLA format below:

Gordon, Jeffrey. "The Triumph of Sisyphus." Philosophy and Literature, vol. 32, no. 1, 2008, pp. 183-190.

Author. "Article Title"Journal Title, Volume, Issue, Year of Publication, pp. page numbers.

Tip: The most common pitfall of reading citations is mixing up the article and journal titles. Remember when searching Primo to find out if we have access to an article: it will be most efficient to search for the journal title.