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Getting Started with Library Resources

Your guide to getting started with library resources and research help

Search Tips

You may think that you don’t need to learn how to search a library database, because you’ve had good luck searching Google (or another web search engine) to locate information. But searching a library resource is not the same as searching for information using Google.

In Google, you can type a question in the same way you might ask it in a conversation, for example: What are the health benefits of regular exercise? This is called searching using natural language.

In a library resource, you should search using keywords, and not natural language; statements or questions. Keywords are usually nouns, e.g. people, places or things. Don’t include words like why, what, where, when, if, the, etc. in your database search.

Before searching a library resource, identify all the keywords in your topic, or research question. For the question above, you could start your search with the keywords health benefits exercise.


Keywords are words that hold the essence, or the key idea, of what you are trying to find. Keywords are words with the most meaning. Using relevant keywords in your search will lead you to better information. If you are searching towards an assignment, you can identify the first keywords from the topic itself.

Topic example: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?

Keywords: reasons, Canadians, purchase, electric cars


Synonyms are words that have the same, or similar meaning as the main keywords. Synonyms and keywords are interchangeable, which means that the meaning of your search will remain the same.

Here are a few synonyms for the topic: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?

reasons = decisions

Canadians = Canadian people, Canadian drivers

purchase = buy, acquire

electric cars = hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, hybrid cars

Related Terms

Related terms are words that generally mean the same thing as the main keywords. For example: tablet - device, car - vehicle, pop - carbonated drink. While related terms don’t mean exactly the same thing as the words they are replacing, they are an excellent tool for broadening the scope of your search.

Here are a few related terms for the topic: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?

reasons = incentives, preferences

Canadians = Ontario drivers, drivers, motor vehicle operators

purchase = lease, rent

electric cars = driverless cars, environmentally friendly vehicles


Boolean operators are a set of commands that you can use when searching databases and our library catalogue. By using them in your search, you will either broaden or narrow your results.
The three most popular Boolean operators are: AND, OR and NOT.
AND:  use when you want both terms to appear in your search results
Example: “social sciences” AND research
OR: use when you want at least one of the terms to appear in your search results
Example: “social sciences” OR “sociology”
NOT: use when you are looking for one term not the other

Example: “social sciences” NOT “earth science”

Boolean operators can be used in the search box:

Or the Advanced Search screen in our library catalogue: 


Use quote marks when searching a phrase. This will instruct the search engine to find results with the two words together rather than separately.
For example:
"social sciences"
Use *  <Shift> <8> when searching to find all the variations of a word.
For example:
  • Canad*  will search: Canada, Canadian, Canadians
  • Wom*n  will search: woman, women

Types of Resources

From an information perspective, print and ebooks are similar. The main difference between them is access. Print books are physical items, whereas ebooks are digital files, that can be accessed from a variety of devices.

Book publication can take a long time. First, the author researches the topic, then they write a draft. The unpublished manuscript is then sent to a published, edited, rewritten, and finally ... published. This can be a lengthy process and explains why even if a book is released in 2016, it likely doesn’t contain up-to-the minute information.

Why use books/ebooks? Books provide overviews, background, history and introductions as well as in-depth examinations of topics. They are useful when you are looking for in-depth information on a topic, or background overview of a subject area.

When researching a topic for your academic work, you may be asked to find scholarly journals, or work with academic articles.  In a research article a researcher, or group of researchers, present findings of their research.

Academic journals can also contain opinion pieces, book reviews, literature reviews, etc.

Research is multidisciplinary. In order for an article to be published in an academic journal, it has to go through a formal submission process, and often, a peer review process.

Peer reviewed journals have a board, or panel of subject experts, who review articles submitted for publication, often working with authors to edit their articles before publication. Not all academic journals are peer reviewed.

Download the below documents to learn more about Journal Articles:

Trade Magazines

Trade magazines print articles aimed at people working in a particular field. Often, articles published in trade journals are written by practitioners in the field. The content in trade journals focuses on working in the profession, trends, news related to that field, or trade, rather than academic research.

Consider trade journals to be more practical than the more theoretical and philosophical academic journals.

Examples of trade journals include:

Popular Magazines

Popular magazine articles typically focus on information from pop culture. Articles are usually short, and with images embedded throughout.

Examples of popular magazines include:

In comparison, scholarly articles are long, black and white, and have statistical tables and graphs included as part of the research. Academic papers also have a long list of references available at the end of the paper.

While popular magazine articles are informative, and often mention academic research, they may not be the best choice to include as part of academic research. To help you decide, read more about popular vs. scholarly sources(opens in new window) here.

YouTube Video -- Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals

Open access journals are online academic publications, made available to readers without subscription fees, free of charge. Traditional publishers (e.g. Sage(opens in new window)Oxford University Press(opens in new window)) also make some of their content available through open access.

Examples of open access journals:

Open access articles can be found through Google, Google Scholar, or any other search engine, as well as through the college library.

When using open access literature for academic work, make sure to evaluate the content critically(opens in new window).

Grey literature refers to materials published non-commercially. These materials can be made available by the government, academia, non-for-profit, business and trade organizations, in print and digital formats. Examples of grey literature include:

  • Conference proceedings
  • Reports (e.g. statistical, technical, committee reports)
  • White papers
  • Flyers
  • Newsletters
  • Fact sheets
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Patents
  • Unpublished materials

Why use grey literature? It is sometimes more current than published research, and it is a great way to supplement your research, providing your project with a full picture viewpoint. You can find grey literature online, by searching Google (or another search engine), and/or Google Scholar.

YouTube Video: What is Grey Literature?

Websites are the most prolific of online resources, and can be found using a search engine (like Google). Websites can serve a variety of purposes, here are a few examples:

  • Individuals - showcase work in a portfolio, to communicate a message
  • For profit companies - promote their brand, or market their products
  • Non profit companies - promote their cause
  • Governments - educate citizens, and publish government based research
  • Educational institutions - publish information related to programs and courses, as well as information relevant for the academic community
  • Others

When using information from websites for your academic work, make sure to evaluate the content critically(opens in new window).

YouTube Video: Selecting Resource Types

Social media posts can be a great source of information. Social media can also add to information overload. In order to tap into the most relevant information, identify relevant #hashtags, @profiles, conversation threads, and blogs on your topic of interest.

Here are examples of the different types of social media platforms:

  • Facebook - Pages and Groups
  • Twitter - #hashtags and @profiles
  • Blogs - personal reflections, and sharing
  • Wikis - crowdsourced information
  • Discussion fora (forums) - conversations on a specific topic

Whenever you use content found on social media for your academic work, make sure to evaluate the content critically(opens in new window).

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Choosing Search Keywords

Types of Resources

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