Skokie Public Library's Guide to...

MagillOnLiteraturePlus is a literature reference database designed for students, book group leaders, and the interested general reader.  It contains critical analyses of works of literature, biographical information on famous writers, and plot, character, and setting profiles for famous works of literature.  

[space]Available everywhere with your
Skokie Public Library card

Why Use MagillOnLiteraturePlus?

MagillOnLiteraturePlus contains the information from many useful reference sources, including MasterPlots, the Cyclopedia of World Authors, and Magill Book Reviews.  The database also contains over 35,000 reviewed critical analyses of literary works, biographical information on more than 6,500 writers, and over 1,000 images of authors.

Following are examples of the types of questions that could be answered by searching MagillOnLiteraturePlus:

  • My book club is reading The Plot Against America.  Do you have any information about this book or its author that would help me prepare for our discussion?
  • I need some sources for a paper about Charles Dickens.
  • Do you have any information on African-American poets?


MagillOnLiteraturePlus has a basic search interface, an advanced search interface, and a visual search interface.

Basic Search

The Basic Search page features a text box at the top of the screen.  Simply type in a word or phrase then hit search to reveal your results. 

The Basic Search also allows you to do a keyword search in the text box, and to limit that search by selecting categories from the large box beneath the text box.  If you are searching for nineteenth-century African-American poetry, for example, you could type “poetry” into the text box, and then use the limiters to restrict your results to full-text sources about African-American poetry published between 1900 and 2000.

Skokie Public Library’s configuration of MagillOnLiteraturePlus makes the Basic Search the default search.  If you would prefer to use the Advanced Search or the Visual Search, please select those searches on the blue tabs in the upper left corner of the page.

Advanced Search

Like the Basic Search, the Advanced Search has a single text box at the top of the page, above a box of limiters.  The main difference between this page and the Basic Search page is that the box of limiters contains a tab that will allow you to view past searches.  This can be useful if you are conducting several searches over a period of time, as it will help you arrive at an effective search strategy and manage your results.

Visual Search

The Visual Search is especially helpful if you are just starting your research and you want an overview of a larger topic. 

The Visual Search page contains a text box at the top of the search screen.  When you type your topic into the search box and click the search button, you will retrieve a map of your search results that shows small squares within large circles.  The circles demonstrate the different ways your topic can be broken down, and the squares are links to articles related to your topic.

For example, if you are working on a paper about Emily Dickinson, you could type “Emily Dickinson” into the search box.  The concept map on this topic will reveal that you could narrow your paper’s scope to biographical material about Emily Dickinson, criticism of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, material on nineteenth-century poetry, material on gender roles and poetry, and material on series of poems about death and dying. 

If you decide to narrow your paper topic to material on gender roles and poetry, for example, you can click on this circle to enlarge it.  This way you will be able to see the squares more clearly.  Moving your mouse over the squares will reveal a preview of the articles they represent.

Tips for More Effective Searching

  • You can search for authors either last name first or last name last, so both “Kingsolver, Barbara” and “Barbara Kingsolver” will retrieve the same results.
  • All of the search boxes allow you to use a wildcard search.  Use the question mark (?) to help you search for authors, titles, literary characters, and locales when you are unsure of spelling.
  • All of the search boxes also allow you to truncate your search terms.  Use the asterisk (*) to help you search for authors, titles, literary characters, and locales when you want to include different forms of particular words, like environment, environments, environmental, and so on.
  • Click the blue question mark icon just below the text box for additional help and advice on searching.

Special Features


MagillOnLiteraturePlus has a controlled vocabulary of terms called descriptors that are maintained in the glossary.  Descriptors are used to organize database materials by subject. Use descriptors in your search to help locate materials of greater relevance to your topic.


MagillOnLiteraturePlus maintains several indexes that can be browsed in order to help you locate materials of greater relevance to your topic.  These indices allow you to browse the database by title, author, literary character, and movement or era.

Sorting records

The results of your search will be listed in alphabetical order by title, unless you choose otherwise.  To choose another method of displaying your results click on the “sort by” drop-down box in the upper right corner of the results list.  Here you can choose to display your results by relevance, series, publication type, or date of publication if you prefer.

You can also choose to view your results by type. In the upper left of the results list you will be given the option to view either “All results” or any other division of the results that may be possible (for example, all biographies, or all magazines).

Refining your results

If you find that a search returns too many results, you can refine your search by clicking on the “refine search” tab on the upper left side of the results list.

Viewing your results

Clicking the blue type in a title will take you to a short bibliographic citation of the source followed by the full text of the article.  To go directly into the full text of the article, click on the HTML Full Text icon following the title of the article.

Handling Results

MagillOnLiteraturePlus allows you to print, email, or save the results of your search.  When you select a result, blue tabs for print, email, and save appear in the upper left corner of the result page.  In addition to printing, emailing, or saving the full text of the result, you may also decide to save a link to the article and select a citation format for the article to be added to printout, email, or saved item.

You may also select the articles you are interested in and add them to a folder.  Choose the  folder icon next to the entry for each result to add an item to your folder.  You can add as many results to the folder as you like, allowing you to preview the results and then go back to read the ones that look most relevant to your search.

Other Resources

Skokie Public Library has many literary criticism resources, available online, in the circulating collection, and in the Literature Reference Collection on the first floor.

Online resources include Literature Resources from Gale containing biographies, bibliographies, and critical writings about authors and their works.  This resource can be searched by time period and by genre, allowing you to find information on Elizabethan drama, for example.

Printed resources include:

  • Twayne Publishers has several series that contain criticism of literary authors and their works, and critical histories of different literary genres.
  • The Norton Critical Editions usually contain the text of a literary work as well as criticism.
  • The Greenwood Press Literature in Context series is written for the student, and contains historical documents and other materials that can help explain a particular literary work.

Please ask at the Readers' Service Desk, call 847.324.3175, or us for help in locating these and other literary research resources.  In addition, librarians at Skokie Public Library have selected and compiled the most useful databases and websites for literary criticism in our Research section.