Literary Research 101

Skokie Public Library provides many different resources both print and online for anyone interested in doing literary research. This
guide will help you make the best use of these resources whatever your task may be.

Searching for criticism on a literary work
Searching for information on a writer
Searching for a summary of a literary work
Searching for the text of a literary work
Citing your sources

Searching for Criticism on a Literary Work

If you're looking for criticism on a novel, poem, play, or short story, you can find numerous helpful sources by searching in several different ways.

Check the Library catalog

Browsing the Library shelves is often the best way to begin your search for literary criticism. To find where to start looking, do a Word search in the Library catalog using the last name of the writer of the work and the word "criticism" as in the following example:

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When you get a list of titles, click on any one of them or select Extended Display, then write down the call numbers to find the books on the shelves.

Locate criticism in a reference book

Sometimes the best (or only) place to find criticism on a literary work is in one of the Library's multivolume reference works. Works such as Contemporary Literary Criticism, Poetry Criticism, and Shakespeare Criticism reproduce excerpts from criticism that originally appeared in journals and books. Other works such as Poetry for Students, Short Stories for Students, and Literature and its Times commission special, in-depth critical essays. An easy way to search many of these works all at once is through Gale’s Literary Index. Enter your title in the database to get a list of the reference works that contain criticism on that work, along with volume and page information. For example, searching for the short story "Hills Like White Elephants" yields the results below:

Gale series that include a discussion of this work:

Short Story Criticism, volume(s) 1:210, 217, 232, 234; 40:250; 63:48, 52, 58-59, 118, 124
Contemporary Literary Criticism, volume(s) 3:234; 19:211; 50:413, 415
World Literature Criticism, edition(s) 3:1651
Short Stories for Students, volume(s) 6:155-172
Reference Guide to Short Fiction (St. James Press, an imprint of Gale), edition(s) 2:857
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, volume(s) 115:184

You'll then need to locate the appropriate volumes (indicated by bold font above) on the shelves in the Literature Reference area to read the relevant pages. Ask at the Readers' Services Desk for assistance in locating these books.

Search the Internet

Generally speaking, the Internet is not a good place to find high quality literary criticism. However, both the Internet Public Library’s Literary Criticism page and Literary Resources on the Net provide links to the best literary sites and criticism on the Web.


Searching for Information on a Writer

If you're looking for biographical and critical information on an author, poet, dramatist, or other writer, you can find it in two ways.

Check the Library catalog

Books about writers are often found in both the Biography (B call numbers) and the Literature (800 call numbers) areas of the Library. You can find these books in the Library catalog by doing a Subject search for your writer, entering his or her last name first as in the following example:

Type the subject, then click on the Search button.
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When you get a list of titles, click on any one of them or select Extended Display, then write down the call numbers to find the books on the shelves.


Searching for a Summary of a Literary Work

Sometimes a summary of a literary work is helpful to understanding it. In addition, summaries such as CliffsNotes and Masterplots also provide basic literary criticism or commentary. There are three ways you can find summaries.

Check the Library catalog

The Library owns several series of literary summaries including CliffsNotes, Monarch Notes, and Bloom’s Notes. The easy way to see if the Library has notes for a particular literary work is to do a Word search in the Library catalog using the title of your work and the word notes as in the following example:

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This will bring up title listings for the CliffsNotes, Monarch Notes, and Bloom’s Notes for Of Mice and Men. Click on any one of the titles or select Extended Display, then write down the call numbers to find the books on the shelves. Literary notes are shelved in boxes in the Teen Corner near the magazine display.

Find a summary on the Web

There are numerous Internet sites where you can find free CliffsNotes-style summaries of literary works. Two good places to start your search are FreeBooknotes.com and SparkNotes.


Searching for the Text of a Literary Work

If you're looking for the actual text of a novel, poem, play, or short story, you can find it in several different ways.

Check the Library catalog

The easiest way to find the text of a literary work is simply to do a Title search in the Library catalog. However, this often won’t find plays and short stories when they are parts of an anthology. To get around this limitation, try doing a Word search in the catalog for the title of your play or short story as in the following example:

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When you do this, you will get a list of anthologies that contain this short story. Click on any one of the titles or select Extended Display, then write down the call numbers to find the book on the shelves.

Search an online database

The Library subscribes to several online databases that either contain the full text of literary works or indicate where these works can be found in printed anthologies. Which database you use depends on what type of literary work you’re looking for.

For the text of plays, try Inter-Play. This site simply indicates which anthologies contain a particular play. Be aware that the call numbers it provides do not correspond to the numbers used by Skokie Public Library.

For classic literary works of all kinds, try the Online Books Page which contains the text of over twenty thousand digitized books including novels, poems, plays, and short stories.


Citing Your Sources

Once you've done your literary research and written your paper, you'll need to cite your sources. Many teachers require students to follow the rules for citation laid out in The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. If you need to cite a document from the Literature Resources from Gale, you can follow the examples in the online guide How to Cite InfoTrac and GaleNet Sources. You might also try using the Landmarks Project's Citation Machine. Simply select the kind of work you're citing (book, encyclopedia article, article from an online database, etc.) and type your bibliographic information into this online resource. It will instantly create citations for you in several different formats.


If you need additional help doing literary research, feel free to ask at the Readers' Services Desk, call the Library at 847.673.7774 and ask for "Readers’ Services," or contact us online at askrs@skokielibrary.info.