Library Resources and Services for Sociology

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Libraries have a long history of providing access to the resources sociologists and other social scientists have needed and used, and to the literature they produce. In addition, libraries have established a strong tradition of providing reference and instructional services. Although the recent and pervasive growth in information technology has led to major changes in the way these resources and services are provided, libraries will continue to serve an important function to the discipline. Knowing how libraries are organized and how they work, what research tools and services are available, and how to use these tools and services effectively can help researchers at various levels to be more efficient and productive.


Many of the thousands of academic libraries in the United States and other parts of the world support sociological course work and research, and researchers near major urban centers can also obtain important materials and substantial research help from some of the larger nonacademic public and research libraries. However, each library's ability to provide these kinds of support is affected greatly by the size of its budget, collections, and staff.

At the larger end of the size continuum, libraries can be quite complex organizationally, although most users will be aware of only the parts and functions of direct relevance to them. In the United States, libraries are organized so that users can use them effectively on their own, identifying what is needed through a public catalog and an open "stacks" area. Almost all users have contact with staff members at a circulation desk, who check out books and sometimes periodicals to them. These staff members also help users locate items they may not be able to find on their own and help make resources available by enforcing loan periods, recalling books from other users, setting up reserve reading rooms for heavily used materials assigned for course readings, and so on. Academic libraries also typically organize their journals into periodical reading rooms or stack areas, and may provide related support services there. Interlibrary loan departments provide access to resources owned by other libraries.

Almost all libraries provide reference service in a variety of ways, and often in different settings. The role of the reference librarian typically extends far beyond the answering of informational questions, and may include providing individualized help in using electronic or complex print resources, or organizing a literature search, as well as speaking to classes about major disciplinary research tools and strategies. Reference librarians often have special areas of subject expertise and may perform liaison or collection development work with academic departments for book and journal purchasing. Where this is the case, graduate students may find it helpful to get to know the librarian responsible for sociology. College and university libraries will generally also have special sections or departments for government publications. Because these resources can be quite specialized, and access to them complex, staff help can be especially important.

Regardless of size, most academic libraries must deal with a variety of interrelated budgetary and technological pressures. For the last several years and for a variety of reasons, the costs of providing periodicals and other serials have been rising more rapidly than other indicators of inflation. (Ketcham–Van Orsdel and Born 1998). This trend has resulted both in a larger share of budgets being devoted to serials and in an ongoing need to evaluate and sometimes cancel subscriptions to journals. At the same time, there has been very rapid growth in book title production in the United States (Bosch 1998), with the result that libraries typically buy a decreasing share of the domestic books published in most disciplines. Economic pressures and increased book production abroad have also made it more difficult for research libraries to buy as large a share of foreign language books and journals as in the past. Accordingly, libraries rely increasingly on cooperative buying and resource sharing. Paradoxically, library users may now actually have better access to some resources than in the past when locally owned resources were relied on more exclusively.

Key developments in information technology such as the CD-ROM and the World Wide Web, have also introduced new options for delivering information. On-line catalogs with sophisticated search features and other functionality have quickly replaced card catalogs. In addition, many periodical indexes and abstracts and the text of key journals are also now available online. These services make it possible for researchers to locate information quickly and easily—even from their homes or offices—but they almost always cost substantially more to purchase and support than do comparable print resources. Together, these factors make for a complex, rapidly changing environment for academic libraries and their users.


Because of sociology's great topical and methodological diversity, it is difficult to characterize its literature. This diversity is well represented in the hundreds of articles in this encyclopedia, and in recent discussions of sociology's most influential books (Clawson and Zussman 1998; Gans 1998; Marwell 1998; Sullivan 1994). Sociologists rely on and use a range of publications and information sources for their research, including books, journals, statistical publications and data sets, and governmental and other specialized reports (Zabel 1996; Shapiro 1985). Of these, the most important outlets for sociological writings have been books and scholarly journals, which appear to assume somewhat greater or lesser importance for different research communities. Some have suggested, for example, that there are two fairly distinct research cultures in sociology—one a "book sociology" that relies on, values, and publishes primarily in books, and the other an "article sociology" that relies on and publishes in scholarly journals. To some extent article sociology may be more characteristic of the scientific end of the discipline, and book sociology more characteristic of its humanistic, historical, ethnographic, and theoretical emphases and traditions (Sullivan 1994).

The sociological journal literature is quite extensive. Of the 5965 items judged significant enough to be included in the 1996 volume of the International Bibliography of Sociology, roughly three-quarters were periodical articles, and even more articles are indexed annually in Sociological Abstracts. According to the 1998–1999 Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory, several hundred periodicals relevant to the field are published worldwide, although this count includes newsletters and other less substantial publications. Hargens (1991) estimated that roughly 250 of these might be characterized as research journals publishing original reports of relevant research findings. Lists of the more prominent or important titles have ranged in size from a couple of dozen (Sociology Writing Group 1998) to sixty or so (Katz and Katz 1997; Aby 1997), to well over a hundred (Bart and Frankel 1986). As in many other disciplines, a handful of journals (primarily the American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, and Social Forces) are widely regarded as the most prestigious and/or influential. However, it appears that publication of important research is less likely to be concentrated in these few journals than in some other disciplines, and use of and reliance on review serials like the Annual Review of Sociology is relatively low (Hargens 1991). As in other disciplines, articles submitted to journals in sociology are typically refereed, or subjected to critical evaluation by peers who thus serve an important gatekeeping function (Mullins 1977; Osburn 1984; Simon 1994).

Many journals are now available electronically as part of larger full-text services to which libraries subscribe, and archives of the journals published by the American Sociological Association are now available electronically via the World Wide Web through the innovative JSTOR program (Guthrie and Lougee 1997; see also In addition, a few sociological journals are available exclusively via the Web, and there has been much recent speculation that journal publishing may soon undergo fundamental change in response to the Web's interactive possibilities. As in the field of physics, for example, articles in other disciplines may commonly circulate on the Web prior to formal publication. The statistical data on which an article is based may also be linked to the Web version of the article for further analysis—which may have special significance for sociology.

As noted earlier, books are also important to the discipline and annual production numbers at least in the thousands. The 1996 volume of the International Bibliography of Sociology, mentioned earlier, listed about 1,300 titles from around the world, but this number did not include textbooks or popular titles. A broader count of relevant titles published or distributed in the United States that same year put the figure at 4,186 (Bosch 1998), up more than 50 percent from 1989. As with journals, hardly any library can build a comprehensive book collection, and libraries select on the basis of relevance to local emphases, user requests, judgments of quality, cost, and other factors. Often book vendor "approval programs," which match published books with formalized interest profiles, are relied on, since they can supply new books quickly and efficiently. Standard book review publications like Choice (aimed at undergraduate libraries) and Contemporary Sociology (a publication mainly for sociologists) may also be systematically utilized for selection, but they lack the space to be comprehensive. (During 1997, for example, Choice reviewed only 216 of the available titles, and Contemporary Sociology roughly 500.) At this writing relatively few newly published books or monographs are being made available electronically, but this seems likely to change in the near future.

There are a variety of other outlets for sociological research in addition to books and journal articles, and sociologists use many other sources of information in their research. For example, those sociologists who work for government agencies often write formal reports, which may be published by the agency. Statistical reports of various kinds that are of interest to sociologists (the U.S. Census being a prime example) are often also published in printed form by government agencies and distributed to academic libraries. These data are also increasingly being made available via the Web. A few academic libraries also pay for and coordinate their institutions' memberships in the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), and make the associated survey data and codebooks available, although it is more typical for other campus agencies to do so. And, of course, the dissertations written by doctoral students are typically acquired and cataloged by their institution's libraries, and sold through Bell and Howell Information and Learning in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The published literature in sociology can also be seen as part of a broader professional communication system which includes less formal interchanges like presentation of papers at regional and national conferences (Osburn 1984). Developments in information technology have fostered the growth of such "invisible colleges"—especially in sociology, where computers have long been important tools. Sociologists have, for many years, made use of data analysis packages the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and now quite commonly have their own personal computers with word processing software and connections to the Internet. As a result, formerly disparate activities like data analysis, writing, and publishing have begun to merge (Anderson 1998). E-mail listserv discussion groups, and the ease with which writings can be posted to the World Wide Web have fostered efficient communication among sociologists sharing research interests, and seem to hold considerable promise for the discipline (Bainbridge 1995). Libraries participate in and help foster these developments in a variety of ways. For example, many libraries participate in the JSTOR program, subscribe to full text services, and provide their users with on-line access to journal indexes like Sociological Abstracts and the Social Sciences Citation Index. Many also support the development of exclusively electronic journals by directing users to them through their on-line catalogs and Web pages.


It is difficult to provide good general strategies for location information in sociology for a variety of reasons. As noted, any number of topics and approaches may be pursued, and a large number of journals and other sources may contain important articles or other information. In addition, a doctoral student "terrorized by the literature" in anticipation of preliminary exam questions (Becker 1986) will need to use different research strategies than will an undergraduate student writing the typical library term paper. Rapid changes in information technology make it even harder to suggest tactics that will be valid five years from now. It is also useful to remember that, although librarians tend to view literature searching as something of a structured and rationalized activity, it can and should often take place in a more open, informal, serendipitous, or even mysterious way—especially in the early stages of a research project. Nevertheless, being alert to the following issues and suggestions can help make literature searching more effective and more efficient. Users are urged to consult their local library staff for additional advice and guidance, and for current information on local resources.

  1. Overview or summarizing tools. Although sociologists tend not to use or rely on review serials like the Annual Review of Sociology, these can often prove helpful by summarizing and evaluating the main themes of recent research and setting them in a broader context. A similar function is played by subject encyclopedias like this one, by disciplinary handbooks (such as Smelser 1988; Smelser and Swedberg 1994; Gilbert et al. 1998), and to some extent by sociology textbooks. Some summarizing sources like these can be found in general and specialized reference books and guides (Aby 1997; Balay 1996; Wertheimer 1986; Zabel 1996). In addition, searches of electronic databases can sometimes be limited to "review articles."
  2. Differences in indexing terminology. Periodical indexes and library catalogs quite often use a defined list of subject terms, which may vary from those commonly used in an area of literature, by a community of scholars, or by an individual student trying to describe a topic. Successful use of these tools often requires matching an idea to indexing terminology. This can save time by helping to eliminate irrelevant citations.
  3. Techniques for searching electronic resources. The scholarly communication system in all disciplines seems destined to be tied increasingly to developments in information technology, and researchers will need to understand how to interact with and use electronic tools effectively. Although most users now know that rough "keyword" searching can give them relevant citations, it is also important to know how to use "Boolean operators," such as AND, OR, and NOT to combine and manipulate terms (Sociology Writing Group 1998) and to incorporate subject indexing terms into a search strategy.
  4. Evaluation of sources. The gatekeeping role played by peer reviewers of journal articles helps guarantee that an article has passed a test of quality or adherence to accepted research norms. This is less apt to be the case with other information sources—especially those found on Web pages or via Web search engines. It is consequently useful to develop a generally skeptical outlook on information sources, and to evaluate such sources on the basis of such things as credibility of origin, scope and coverage, currency, and reputation (Sociology Writing Group 1998).
  5. Library collections as a linked system. Since it seems unlikely that the financial constraints facing academic libraries will ease in the foreseeable future, libraries will continue their efforts to share resources efficiently. As a result, library users should assume that the collections available to them extend far beyond what their local libraries own. Graduate students and faculty, especially, will need to be aware of how their libraries are making these broader resources available and how long it will take to obtain publications from elsewhere.


The most important tools for locating relevant periodical articles are known by librarians as abstracting and indexing services, because they abstract (or summarize) articles and index them (apply subject terms to them) according to a vocabulary developed for the purpose. These tools are frequently available in both printed and electronic form, and the electronic versions offer powerful searching capabilities and other features such as links to the full text of articles. The most important for researchers in sociology are the Social Sciences Index (and some competing products), Sociological Abstracts, and Social Sciences Citation Index.

The Social Sciences Index and several competing products are important because they provide students with relatively easy access to a more manageable subset of the available literature than do the other two main tools. Because even smaller academic libraries will tend to subscribe to the majority of periodicals indexed in them, they are especially helpful for beginning students. For many years the printed Social Sciences Index was the primary general tool for social science researchers. It has gradually grown in coverage and now indexes roughly four hundred important social science journals, including about fifty titles in sociology, and is available in a few different electronic versions with abstracts and the full text of some of the indexed articles. Articles are carefully indexed according to subject, with "see" and "see also" references pointing users to other relevant subjects.

Within the last several years a few companies like EBSCO, the Gale Group, and Bell and Howell have offered some other, more general periodical indexes aimed at the college or undergraduate library market which cover largely the same range of social science literature. Although the sociology journals indexed are fairly similar, these products do differ in their indexing and abstracting practices, how far back their indexing and full text coverage extends, which titles are provided in full text, and in their search capabilities and limitations.

In contrast to these general sources, Sociological Abstracts covers the sociological literature much more comprehensively. Since this source is so fundamental to literature searching in sociology, it is worth quoting the publisher's description at length:

Sociological Abstracts provides access to the world's literature in sociology and related disciplines, both theoretical and applied. The database includes abstracts of journal articles selected from over 2,500 journals, abstracts of conference papers presented at various sociological association meetings, relevant dissertation listings from Dissertation Abstracts International, enhanced bibliographic citations of book reviews, and abstracts of selected sociology books published in Sociological Abstracts (SA) and SocialPlanning/Policy and Development Abstracts (SOPODA) since 1974.

Approximately 2,500 journals in thirty different languages from about fifty-five countries are scanned for inclusion, covering sociological topics in fields such as anthropology, economics, education, medicine, community development, philosophy, demography, political science, and social psychology. Journals published by sociological associations, groups, faculties, and institutes, and periodicals containing the term "sociology" in their titles, are abstracted fully, irrespective of language or country of publication. Noncore journals are screened for articles by sociologists and/or articles of immediate interest or relevance to sociologists.

The abstracts provided are typically lengthy and detailed, and articles are indexed by author and a sufficient number of indexing terms from the Thesaurus of Sociological Index Terms to describe their content. The Thesaurus has been developed over time with sociological concepts and terminology in mind, and this tool—which may be integrated into an electronic version of the publication—is a key to making searching more efficient and effective. As shown by the following sample entry for the term "Satisfaction," the Thesaurus indicates what subject terms are available for searching, and what relationships they have with one another.

SNA context-dependent term for an individual's positive assessment of self or circumstances. Select a more specific entry or coordinate with other terms.
HNFormerly (1963–1985) DC 403350
UFFulfillment (1969–1985)
NTCommunity Satisfaction
 Job Satisfaction
 Life Satisfaction
 Marital Satisfaction
 Self Esteem

The most important codes shown in this example are as follows. SN stands for a "scope note," or definition of the term. BT indicates that the "broader term" of "Attitudes" can be used. NT stands for "narrower" or more specific terms, and RT for "related terms." UF means that "Satisfaction" is "used for" Fulfillment (in other words, fulfillment is not used as a subject term). (For a complete discussion of the codes and their meaning and use, consult the Thesaurus.)

Users of both the printed and electronic versions of Sociological Abstracts would be able to find abstract entries using these terms. The printed index refers users to an abstract number, which is then looked up in another part of the volume to actually locate the abstract, whereas the electronic version would provide a set of abstracts that could be reviewed and printed out. The following example was found on line by searching for "Life Satisfaction" as a subject term using a version of Sociological Abstracts produced by Silver Platter Information in Norwood, Massachusetts.

TI:Marital Status, Gender, and Perception of Well-Being
IN:Dept Sociology Tennessee Technological U, Cookeville 38505
SO:Journal-of-Social-Psychology; 1997, 137, 1, Feb, 95–105.
DT:aja Abstract-of-Journal-Article
AB:Draws on data from the combined 1982–1991 National Opinion Research Center's General Social Surveys (total N = 12,168 adults) to reexamine relationships among marital status, gender, & perception of well-being. ANOVA revealed that marriage significantly enhances perception of well-being for both men & women, though in general, women express more satisfaction than men. Well-being perceptions were significantly affected by race & financial status, regardless of marital status. 3 Tables, 44 References. Adapted from the source document
DEM:*Marital-Status (D491150); *Well-Being (D916500); *Sex-Differences (D758100); *Single-Persons (D771900); *Life-Satisfaction (D463800)
DES:United-States-of-America (D890700)
SH:social psychology; personality & social roles (individual traits, social identity, adjustment, conformism, & deviance) (0312)

The "DEM" label in this entry stands for "major descriptors", and indicates that the main topics of this article are Marital Status, Well-Being, Sex-Differences, Single-Persons, and Life-Satisfaction. The "DES" label stands for "minor descriptors," and shows that although the article has been indexed under "United-States-of-America," this is not an important focus.

As noted earlier, a key technique in using this and other electronic indexes is combining terms using Boolean operators to make searching more precise and to limit the amount of material that must be reviewed. In this case, this article and other entries could have been found by searching for the subject terms "Life Satisfaction" AND "Sex Differences." A slightly more complex search strategy or statement might have been to search for "Life Satisfaction OR Well-Being" AND "Marital Status OR Single Persons." This kind of search statement can be made as elaborate as necessary to the situation. It is also possible to limit search results by date, language, journal, and type of publication (such as book review, journal article, or conference paper), and to search on virtually any combination of words found in the article title and abstract entry. It is, of course, impossible or impractical to do so with the printed publication. Because of its comprehensiveness, many users of Sociological Abstracts will need to adjust their search strategies to exclude conference papers and dissertations (which are often difficult to obtain) and foreign language publications.

The Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) does not cover journals in sociology quite as extensively as Sociological Abstracts, but it covers journals in other social science disciplines more completely than the latter, and much more comprehensively than does the Social Sciences Index. In 1997, for example, the SSCI indexed 1,725 journals "completely," including 92 titles in sociology, and indexed another 1,371 on a selective basis. During that year, 72,665 articles and another 39,412 book reviews in all social science disciplines were indexed. Unlike Sociological Abstracts, abstracts have only recently begun to be provided in SSCI (in the electronic versions only), and articles are not indexed according to a fixed indexing vocabulary. Instead, heavy reliance is made in the print version on words from the titles of articles. Articles are also indexed by author, of course, although the publisher uses only authors' first and middle initials, rather than their full names, which can occasionally cause confusion.

What is uniquely valuable about this source is that it enables users to search "by citation," or to locate articles that have cited an earlier author or article. Eugene Garfield, the founder of the Institute for Scientific Information, which publishes SSCI, described the idea behind citation indexes as follows:

The concept of citation indexing is simple. Almost all the papers, notes, reviews, corrections, and correspondence published in scientific journals contain citations. These cite—generally by title, author, and where and when published—documents that support, provide precedent for, illustrate or elaborate on what the author has to say. Citations are the formal, explicit linkages between papers that have particular points in common. A citation index is built around these linkages. It lists publications that have been cited and identifies the sources of the citations. Anyone conducting a literature search can find from one to dozens of additional papers on a subject just by knowing one that has been cited. And every paper that is found provides a list of new citations with which to continue the search. (Garfield 1979, p. 1)

Books as well as journal articles in sociology can be, and often are, cited by the journal articles indexed in SSCI (Sullivan 1994) and the ability to search on cited references may provide a large number of additional "access points" for locating an article. The article on marital status that was used as the sample record from Sociological Abstracts, for example, cited forty-four earlier articles and studies. Users of SSCI could search on any of those citations and locate the article that way.

One difficulty with performing citation searches lies in knowing when it will be useful do so. In sociology, although it is possible to perform citation searches on the handful of authors in the recognized pantheon (i.e., Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and some others), such an approach will often result in far too many references with only tenuous subject relationships to one another. It may consequently be necessary to combine a result set from a citation search with some other group of search terms. Where citation searching seems most useful in sociology is when tracing a methodological article, or in other somewhat narrow circumstances. To do a citation search for a journal article—using either the printed SSCI or its electronic counterpart—requires that a researcher know the author's name and initials, and preferably the volume, volume number, year, and page of the publication. For example. Clifford Clogg and Gerhard Arminger's 1993 article titled "On Strategy for Methodological Analysis" from the publication Sociological Methodology (vol. 23, pp. 57–74) is listed in SSCI as:


By searching the printed or electronic versions of SSCI under this entry, it would be possible to find other articles which cited this article. It would also be possible to look at the list of sources cited by Clogg and Arminger and find other articles which have cited them. As with Sociological Abstracts, the electronic version of SSCI makes for far more efficient searching—especially of citations. Another interesting use to which citation searching is often put is comparing faculty members' research productivity—especially for promotion and tenure consideration. This procedure is controversial for a variety of reasons—especially when comparing faculty members from different disciplines, which may not share the same publication and citation patterns.

Depending on the particular topic being researched, and the depth with which the search must be carried out, a number of other tools in neighboring or related fields may prove useful, including Anthropological Literature, EconLit, Popline, Psychological Abstracts/PsycInfo, and Social Work Abstracts. In addition, researchers may be able to avail themselves of journal article "alerting" services, such as Uncover Reveal, which automatically sends the tables of contents of specified journals and article citations containing specified keywords to users via e-mail. Although some of the electronic versions of the indexes discussed also provide linkages to a local library's journal holdings information or to on-line full text, accurately determining which articles are available locally still typically requires a separate step.


As noted earlier, most libraries now provide online versions of their catalogs. Unlike card catalogs, on-line catalogs can be searched via keyword, and with Boolean operators or combinations. They may also provide direct links to electronic resources on the World Wide Web, as well as the circulation status of a book. In addition, many now permit users to view lists of the books they have checked out and to reserve items checked out to other users. Despite these and other less visible changes, books are catalogued in much the same way they have been for years: by author, title, and subject. Few college students will be unaware that books can be searched by author and title, but they may also mistakenly assume that a journal article can be found by its author or title in a library catalog. Instead, the title of the journal must be searched, and then the specific volume and page located on the shelf within that journal.

Although many students will also realize that books can be located by subject, few will understand how the subject heading system works. The system used for this in most academic libraries was developed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the headings themselves are called Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). These headings are published in multivolume sets by the same name, which now closely resemble database thesauri like the Thesaurus of Sociological Index Terms. They can be used in the same way to find relevant subject headings for searching. For example, the entry for "Satisfaction" in the 1997 edition of LCSH looks like this:

NTConsumer satisfaction
 Housing—Resident satisfaction
 Job satisfaction
 Libraries—User satisfaction
 Office buildings—Tenant satisfaction
 Patient satisfaction
 Public housing—Resident satisfaction
 Rental housing—Resident satisfaction
—Religious aspects
— — Buddhism, [Christianity, etc.]

Like the entry from the Thesaurus, this shows the availability of Broader (BT), Related (RT), and Narrower (NT) terms. Unlike terms from the Thesaurus, though, LCSH lists a large number of terms that are subdivisions of more general terms. In other words, if a researcher were to look under "Libraries" as a subject term, she or he might find books listed under many subdivisions, including "User satisfaction." This is also true of subject headings that are more directly related to sociology. For example, the term "Sociology" can be subdivided by a country or other geographic term, or by such terms as "—Methodology", "—Philosophy," or "—Statistical methods." Subject headings can also be modified by adding a comma and an adjective to a term. For instance, "Sociology, Islamic" would be used instead of "Islamic Sociology." Although it is not necessary to thoroughly understand this system, it is useful to realize that it exists, and that some help from library staff in identifying useful subject headings may be needed. As with other databases, noticing what subject headings have been applied to relevant, known books may be a good start, and may lead to the finding of other important books.

Most academic libraries now also physically organize their book and journal collections using another system developed at the Library of Congress: its call number scheme. Unlike the Dewey Decimal system that is commonly used in school and public libraries, Library of Congress call numbers start with one or two letters. For example, sociology and economics have both been assigned the letter H, to which a second letter is added for a further breakdown. For sociology, the primary classes are:

7HMGeneral Works, Theory
HNSocial History and Conditions; Social Problems, Social Reform
HQ-HTSocial Groups
HQFamily, Marriage, Woman
HSSocieties: Secret, Benevolent, etc., Clubs
HTCommunities, Classes, Races
HVSocial Pathology. Social and Public Welfare; Criminology

Numbers make these breakdowns more specific. For example, before extensive changes were introduced recently, the numbers between HM 1 and HM 299 were used for topics in sociology. Under the revised scheme, HM numbers 401 and higher will be used instead, which will allow a finer topical breakdown and arrangement. For example, under the old scheme the numbers from HM 251 to HM 299 were assigned to various topics in Social Psychology, such as:

 255Instinct in social psychology
 261Public Opinion
 263Publicity. Propaganda.

A particular book in general social psychology would have been assigned the subject call number HM 251, to which additional combinations of letters, numbers and possibly dates designating the author or work would be applied. For example, the 1998 edition of the Handbook of Social Psychology was assigned the number HM 251 H224 1998, where H224 represents the title, and 1998 the edition. Under the revised system, books in social psychology will receive numbers HM 1000 and above, and the same Handbook cataloged under it might have the call number HM 1033 H34 1998. This will obviously and unfortunately cause books on similar topics but classed under the older and newer systems to be separated on library shelves. Again, it is not necessary to fully understand the call number system, but having a general sense of how it works can make locating books a little easier.

Many researchers will also need to develop an understanding of the kinds of materials that may be available in a given library but not listed in its catalog. The single largest category of such material, in most cases, consists of government publications or documents—especially those things published by the U.S. federal government, but also by state and local governments, the governments of other countries, and the United Nations or other international agencies. Because there are so many of these publications and documents, very few libraries can provide thorough and complete coverage of them. As a result, other indexes and similar sources are often necessary. For the federal government publications of the United States, the primary tool is the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications, although there are a number of other supplementary sources available. For example, the American Statistics Index provides very detailed indexing coverage of federal statistical publications. Both of these tools were originally published in paper, but are now available both in electronic versions. Access to publications of U.S. state governments and those of other countries are also unlikely to be catalogued, and other tools may be needed.


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Timothy D. Jewell