Information Beyond the Book: Indexes and Periodicals

Some periodical indexes use Library of Congress Subject Headings and some use their own list of subjects. When you use an index, it is wise to think of several words and phrases to express your topic and also to use any SEE or SEE ALSO references which you find in the index. If you are unable to find the topic you want in a periodical index, please ask a reference librarian for help.

Most indexes use many abbreviations, especially of periodical titles. When you use an index for the first time, it is a very good idea to read the help screens or the introductory pages for helpful information and examples. Most indexes explain their abbreviations in the introductory pages. Remember, there are publications, such as Periodical Title Abbreviations: By abbreviation, that are useful tools for identifying periodical titles.

It is extremely important that you use these abbreviation lists to identify the precise titles of the periodicals you want to read, for many periodicals have similar titles which are easily confused. For example, does the abbreviation "Chem Ind" refer to the title Chemical Industries or to Chemical and Industry? If you don't look up the abbreviation, you will have difficulty searching for the periodical in the library catalog.

If the title of an article does not describe the content of that article, the editors of the index may add an explanatory note. Often other notes are added in order to highlight special features of an article, such as illustrations or a bibliography. The following examples shows two notes:

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Steps in a Periodical Search

To summarize, here are the typical steps in the periodical search process.

  1. Choose and define a topic. For this example, we're going to look for an article about alcoholic beverages-- how drinking is an integral part of many societies, and the damage which can be caused by drinking. We don't already have a lot of knowledge about this topic, and we aren't going to write a long research paper about it, so an introductory article would be a good start. Logical subject headings or keywords to search would be "Alcohol," "Alcoholic Beverages," "Drinking," "Alcohol and Society," or any others you want to try.
  2. Select a periodical index.  Next we want to know what articles exist about this subject. We must use a periodical index, so for Step 2 we consult a reference librarian who suggests the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature .
  3. We read the introductory pages of this index and find information about its abbreviations and how to interpret its citations.
  4. We start looking up our subject terms in the index. There are several volumes of this index, and so we begin with a recent one and work backward in time to older volumes, making note of the citations to all the articles which look relevant.
  5. We select an article in National Geographic and copy down the appropriate citation information.
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  6. Next, we determine if the library owns this periodical.  We do a title search on the periodical title in the library catalog to see if Rasmuson Library has this periodical.
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  7. Locate the appropriate issue of the periodical on the shelf.  We now know the call number for National Geographic and go to the Periodicals Collection on Level 3 of the library and find the February 1992 issue on the shelves.
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This page was last modified on November 9, 2014