LIS1001: Resource Types

What is a Book?

A book is a written or printed series of pages bound together.  A book can also be found in digital format (known as an ebook).  Books can be fiction or non-fiction and can be written for any topic, or any audience known to man. They are also considered monographs, where the information in the book is meant to standalone and published once, as compared to a periodical (journal, magazine or newspaper) where the content is expected to continue in set intervals like weekly, monthly or quarterly. 

General Characteristics

Can be popular or scholarly, and may be fiction or non-fiction.  
Most books in the UNF collection are scholarly and non-fiction, so we will focus on that.

  • 200-300 pages
  • on a broader topic, with chapters relating to narrower topics
  • Written by scholars; sometimes will have editors and individual authors for book chapters
  • Publisher matters; many large universities will have their own publishing companies for scholarly books
  • Will have a substantial bibliography and pages of notes
  • Publication date is not as important as books take many months/years to complete and are not meant for cutting edge research


When to Use Books

Only the most recent of topics will not be covered by books. As research sources, books are excellent means for identifying various areas of interest within a larger subject. For example, a book that focuses on cloud computing will break down this larger subject into smaller areas, such as security, costs, and ease of use, and help a researcher discover what work has already been done and what work still needs to be done. Always good starting places for most research projects, books can prove invaluable for their depth and breadth of coverage.

Book features that can be of great benefit to researchers include:

References ‐‐ Scholarly works will normally document sources used in developing concepts and ideas treated within them. Bibliographies included in books will provide researchers with names of seminal works in the field as well as with names of key authorities in their areas of interest.

Key Concepts & Terminology ‐‐ Researchers who are just launching into an investigation of a topic will likely need to identify key concepts and terminology in order to effectively scan research databases for relevant current literature. Books, because of the depth with which they cover their topics, will be prime sources to use for turning up the proper vocabulary to use in searches. Often times, books also will point out research needs that have yet to be fulfilled, thus providing researchers with ideas for future research directions.

Detailed Index or Table of Contents ‐‐ While it might seem trivial, an index at the back of a book is extremely valuable to a researcher who is trying to quickly locate information inside a book. If a book does not have an index, it will hopefully have a more detailed table of contents that will assist the user in finding the needed information quickly.

Charts, tables, graphs, and other illustrative materials ‐‐ Often books will include illustrative materials that will help clarify concepts that are covered. Some topics, such as art and photography, for example, cannot be effectively presented in the absence of visual aids. Charts and graphs can be particularly helpful for illustrating numerical data that demonstrate changes over time or under varying conditions. Numerical data sets are more easily grasped when presented in tables. In short, illustrations can be of great value in helping a researcher to better understand complex concepts and ideas.

Literature surveys or reviews ‐‐ Many academic publications will routinely include literature surveys or reviews. A part of the research process is to identify key works of literature that have already been produced before launching into new studies. A book that includes chapters or sections written by multiple researchers might include literature surveys for each of the separate parts of the book.

These are typical features but by no means everything that could turn up inside a book. For example, works on history might include reproductions of historic documents or manuscripts that might otherwise be difficult to obtain. Works on rare and endangered species of animals might include photographs of species that very few people have ever seen. Books on music might actually include music discs that sample a particular composer's style. In short, books provide key contributions to research projects.


Assessing the Potential Value of a Book: What To Look For?

Following are characteristics/qualities to examine when evaluating books and longer sources for inclusion in an academic paper.

Authorship -- It is of paramount importance to identify additional information about the author. Who is the author and what qualifies him/her to be writing a book on the chosen subject? Is the author affiliated with a university or other research organization? Has the author written other articles or books on the same or similar subjects? What kind of critical reception has been accorded the author by other researchers and by book reviewers?

Where to Look:

  • Book title page, introductory pages, book jacket. Many books will include author qualifications on the title page. For example, an author might have a Ph.D. in English or might be affiliated with a specific university as a faculty member. This information could be included on the book title page. If there are no qualifications listed on the title page, some books will have a brief author background page somewhere in the front material of the book. This could be a section entitled "About the Author." If there is no background printed directly in the book, in many cases the book jacket that encases the book might have an author blurb on the inside or back cover, sometimes with a picture of the author.
  • Biographical Sources (print and electronic). If the author is fairly well known professionally, further information might be available from any number of print or electronic biographical sources. 
  • Library catalogs and article databases. An additional way to learn more about an author is to search library catalogs and databases to see what other materials the author has had published. Does a search of the UNF library's catalog, for example, identify any other publications by the same author? Are these on the same or similar subjects and do they appear to be written at a level acceptable for the research project at hand?

Documentation-- Unless it is a novel, an extended essay, an autobiography, a collection of essays or other primary materials, or some other type of publication that doesn't require references, a book will cite references to other sources of information. Academic research routinely involves surveying what has already been written on a topic as a means for launching into further discovery. Cited references might also include suggestions for further reading by other experts in a field.

Book Reviews-- Books of note most likely will be reviewed and the reviews published in book trade publications, newspapers, and journals. Booklist, for example, is a twice monthly publication that specializes in providing reviews of books in a wide variety of disciplines and written for varied audiences, including both non‐fiction and fiction. Many newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Times of London, will also publish reviews of recent books. Book reviews could be written by subject specialists or by professional reviewers who have no single subject specialty. While reviews will not be the sole determinants of the value of a particular work, they can help a researcher get a feel for what type of information can be found in a book and what caliber of writing to expect from the book's author.

Publishing Information--

  • Publication Date-- Every research project should reflect the most recent information obtainable. While older sources can also be of value, a researcher should strive to identify the most recent sources for any topic being researched. While it might seem not quite as necessary to find current research on topics in literature or history or art, it is every bit as necessary to look for current materials on these subjects as well as on subjects that reflect rapid growth and change, such as computer science and robotics and medicine. For example, the years old controversy over whether Shakespeare actually wrote Shakespeare is still alive and well in academic circles and current materials can be easily located on this topic. The quickest way to identify the currency of a publication being considered as a source is to look at the front portion of the book, specifically the title page or its verso, to find out when it was published.
  • Publisher-- A researcher might also want to look into information about the publisher of the book being evaluated. Is it a popular press, a commercial press, or an academic press? Publisher directories or even publisher websites will help a researcher determine what type of publisher is issuing a book under consideration. Academic/scholarly publishing houses and even commercial publishers that have an academic focus are most likely to specialize in publishing books that have an academic focus and thus are appropriate for academic research.

While many books will make their particular focus abundantly clear in the initial pages, not all publications do. It might take a bit more digging on the researcher's part to really get a good feel for whether a source is truly appropriate for the task at hand.