Do you need to find a starting point for more information or a quick reference to a certain topic? Reference books are the answer. Reference books found in libraries are generally not circulated materials, but are freely available if a person knows where to find it. A few examples are encyclopedias, almanacs, and dictionaries, but almost anyone can find the encyclopedia section, right? In order to find more specific reference books, a person must know how to search for the most accurate information pertaining to the topic they are researching.
As a class assignment, I had to find a reference book associated with a random topic given by other classmates. The topics I received were: abortion, war on drugs, and American Pickers. To begin my search for a reference book on each individual topic, I chose to use the RACERtrac database because it is a catalog of all the materials located in the Murray State University libraries. To help narrow my search even more and get results that were more relevant to my topic, I used the "Advanced" search option.
Locating a reference book on abortion was very simple because abortion is a very general topic. I entered the search term "abortion" to be a keyword anywhere in the material, changed the "Location" to Reference, and the "Type" to book. Pro-choice/Pro-life: An Annotated, Selected Bibliography was the first option and it was available in the Reference Collection at the Waterfield Library. I felt that this particular reference book could give me views of both sides of the topic and would be a good starting point for further research.
The next topic, war on drugs, was not as straightforward as I thought it would be. Simply entering "war on drugs" resulted in no hits. Therefore, I separated the two main words and used a truncation symbol to help find more applicable materials. In separate search boxes, I entered "drugs?" then "war?" to be keywords found anywhere in the material. I chose the operator "AND" so that both search terms would be included within the document. Through previous knowledge about the war on drugs, I was able to choose the reference book, Columbia: A Country Study, as a quick reference to my particular topic.
Finding a reference book associated with my last "topic" was a little more complex than the previous topics. American Pickers is a television show about two men traveling across the United States to purchase old antiques at a low price and then repair the items to sell at higher price. As I suspected, there were not any reference books located in the MSU libraries related to American Pickers or "picking" (as some people call the activity). Therefore, I decided to search what the TV show was truly about: antiques!
In the first search box, I entered "antiques" to be found within the title of the reference book. Using the operator "OR", I entered "collect?" in the second search box to be found anywhere in the material. By using a truncation with collect, I was hoping to broaden my search results to include collections and collectables. There were several books to select, but many included London and England within the information of the book. Keeping in mind the original topic, AMERICAN Pickers, I selected Antiques Directory that was published in New York with American consultants.
Finding a reference book can be simple if the topic is very general, however; the simplicity of searching for a broad topic could lead to an overload of useless and unnecessary information. Knowing what search terms to use, utilizing truncation symbols, and being able to limit searches are all vital techniques in finding the most suitable reference book for your topic.
I have also included a brief video tutorial on how to use RACERtrac. The video not only gives a visual for the information provided above, but also illustrates the other features of the online catalog.