Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top 5 Online Research Sites

I miss lots of things about living in the U.S., but whenever I sit down to research an article, one thing I really miss is the libraries. I practically get misty-eyed thinking of libraries of my past: the majestic staircase and dusty stacks of Olin Library at Wesleyan University; the noble, marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, outside of the New York Public Library; the gilded ceilings of Library of Congress. I remember with special affection the tiny, musty Southwest Library in Washington, D.C, where as I kid, I came to scoop up my favorite friends (The Little Princess, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, A Wrinkle in Time) and bring them home for a visit.

It’s hard to get so worked up about online libraries.

I do work in brick-and-mortar libraries here in France sometimes. We expats in Paris are lucky to have the wonderful American Library in Paris as a resource. And French libraries have a surprisingly large number of English-language books available as well as a digital system that makes these books easy to find. But the vast bulk of the research I do takes place online.

Here are 5 of my favorite resources:

1. Project Gutenberg. I just love this site for doing historical research. The scent of old parchment practically emanates from it. This digital collection has some 34,000 texts, many dating as far back as the 16th century. As a bonus, if it doesn’t have the book you’re looking for, it provides links to other free libraries that might. Awesome.

2. FindArticles.com (BNET). This site is as close as an expat freelancer can get to browsing the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble. Here you’ll find back issues of some 900 magazines. The site’s not only great for research, but it’s good for checking out whether and when a magazine has covered a particular topic.

3. Google Books. Using Google Books makes me feel slightly dirty. I didn’t like the broad, careless way the company interpreted copyright laws when they initiated the project, and it creeps me out to think of how they could restrict access to information, if they so chose. But, damn it, the resource is so freakin’ useful. I’ve turned to it many times when I couldn’t find a particular book in the American Library of Paris, or didn’t have two hours to wander the mammoth halls of the Bibliotèque Nationale. The expat freelancer’s job would be a hundred times more frustrating without it. So I can’t help but recommend it. I mean: 7 million digitized books. Holy cow.

4. Questia. Questia is an online library that requires a subscription for access to most of its books. But a portion of their library, particularly academic journals and periodicals, are free. It has nowhere near the number of digitized books as Google Books (only 1.5 million), but unlike with Google books, you can read the entire text of the books offered.

5. The Internet Public Library. This site, created by a group of graduate students at the University of Michigan, is a new millennium concept of a library. It not only provides you with access to countless newspapers, books, magazines and articles from all over the US and abroad, but it offers features of a brick-and-mortar library. For example, it has a “Reading Room”, presents special exhibits, has an online librarian, and houses a variety of collections. I’ve found good information on this site and it’s extremely easy to navigate. The only downside is that it offers the same dangers as a “real” library: it’s easy to get sucked into fascinating rooms that you didn’t mean to be in. I love it.

What are your favorite online sites for research?

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