There are several approaches and strategies to employ when doing online research using the Library of Congress website. Starting with the single search box, found on the Library of Congress website, you will discover digital primary sources as well as research tools and guides created by librarians. Use the tabs below to learn more about how to search the Library's website, expand your search to include databases and online catalogs, and evaluate the results of your research.
If you need additional support related to developing search strategies, you might want to explore the “Guide to Student Research and Historical Argumentation” External, a resource developed by National History Day and the Library of Congress to help support students in the historical research process.
Knowing where and what to search are just as important as understanding how to search; deciding where to start may depend on the topic you are investigating and on the kind of information you are looking for. Are you looking for historical newspapers, directories, journal articles... the answers to these questions will inform where you search.
A significant word or phrase in the title, subject headings (descriptors), contents note, abstract, or text of a record in an online catalog or bibliographic database that can be used as a search term in a free-text search to retrieve all the records containing it. Most online catalogs and bibliographic databases include an option that allows the user to type words that describe the research topic (in any order) and retrieve records containing the search terms in the data fields the system is designed to search whenever the keywords option is selected. One disadvantage of a keywords search is that it does not take into account the meaning of the words used as input, so if a term has more than one meaning, irrelevant records (false drops) may be retrieved.
Reitz, Joan M. Online dictionary for library and information science: ODLIS. 1996. [Westport, Conn.]: Libraries Unlimited.
The keyword you select for your search should describe important aspects of your investigation, therefore, selecting the appropriate keyword(s) for your search is the foundation for your research. Despite their various algorithms and filters, databases, search engines, indexes, and even catalogs work by matching your keywords to their records, this is how you get search results. The more keywords these search tools can find, the more relevant the results will be for your search. The search will only give you back what you tell it you are looking for, so selecting those keywords and related or synonymous terms, is important. For example, if you are researching teenagers and their reading habits, you want to make sure your keywords include — teen, teens, teenager, youth, young adults, and depending on the page you want to target, even — child, children, kids, etc.
Deciding on a topic you'd like to write about and defining the parameters of your research is one of the most challenging and important aspects of the research process.
When deciding upon a topic, remember these three rules:
Try browsing through these resources to help you develop some ideas:
You can search by typing a keyword into the search box, and you can also search for a specific type of item—e.g., map, audio recording, or manuscript (handwritten document)
There are a number of ways to view your search results (e.g., list view, gallery view, grid view etc.). It is also possible to sort, or re-sort, your search results by date or title. You can also narrow your search results using filters for year, subject, language, and more.
On LOC.gov, each item generally has a record that includes details like title, date created, creator, and more. There are also clickable details that link to similar items and related materials that can help expand your research. On this page, you can also learn about copyright restrictions related to the item. If you have questions about copyright, check out the section in this guide on “Citations and Formatting.”
The Library of Congress Online Catalog is available at https://catalog.loc.gov/. It is the primary search tool for discovering all types of materials in the Library's print and online collections. Search results will provide full bibliographic information for each collection item along with the location and call number needed to request and use that item at the Library. If the material is digitized, there will be a link to the primary source online.
There are several ways to search the online catalog. The instructions below focus on the Advanced Search option.
Developing a search strategy can help to narrow down your results lists and replicate a consistent search across multiple e-resources/databases.
Throughout the process of conducting your research, you will find yourself pausing to reflect, evaluate, and refine your results and research.
You may need to repeat this process across a number of collections, subject areas, catalogs, and/or databases in order to get the exact type of results you are looking for.
Remember, when using the Internet for research, it's important to evaluate the accuracy and authority of the information you find on websites. Search engines, like Google, find sites and pages of all levels of quality. Try to keep these things in mind when deciding if a web page is reliable and appropriate for your research: