I was reading the Thingology Blog (by Tim Spaulding, creator of Librarything) and ran across this aside
***I particularly recall how one of my professors tended never to know the *titles* of books she’d recommended to me. She’d say “that new book on Athenian demes by so-and-so.” The authors were all colleagues and friends of hers. … It didn’t help that the titles in academics are often bland affairs, “aiming higher” than their obscure topic in the hope of appealing to a broader audience—”Art, Difference and Culture” subtitled, “16th-century non-guild stonemasons in Malta,” etc.
I recall so vividly the same sensation from my days as an undergraduate and beginning graduate student. You end up with half-remembered titles, badly-spelled (or no) names, and a vague idea that this is all VERY IMPORTANT. Many of us are too shy to simply email the professor and ask for clarification. So where do you go from there?
For books, the place to start is WorldCat. WorldCat is a database – look for it under Popular Databases or search our database finder. It’s the world’s online catalog – it has everything in Duke’s catalog, and everything in UNC’s, and everything in the Charlotte Public Library’s, and everything in Harvard’s – you get the idea. It’s by no means perfect as a universal catalog, but it’s pretty good. Among its many uses:
1. Checking to see that you have a good citation. If searching in Duke’s catalog doesn’t find you a book, maybe it’s not that we don’t have it; maybe you’ve got it a little bit wrong. Check on it by checking WorldCat. If nobody has it, well, maybe that author’s name isn’t really Gnarl after all.
2. Starting to look for books on a topic when you don’t want to limit yourself to just what Duke owns. If your research project is a big one, and you have time to request materials through Interlibrary Loan, why not cast the net wide as you begin? Do a keyword or subject search in WorldCat, not just Duke’s catalog. We can’t own everything! If we do own it, WorldCat will tell you so, and provide the Get It @ Duke link.
Written by Phoebe Acheson