Photo of Birds of America by John James Audubon Vol. 11

What is a Research Library?

Research libraries are libraries that contain a large volume of academic research, peer-reviewed work, primary source materials, and a number of other fiction and non-fiction works on a variety of topics. Typically, academic research libraries are affiliated with universities, but this is not always the case. Some of the most popular research libraries in the world are the University of Toronto Library, Harvard University Library, the Bodleian and Magdalen Libraries at Oxford University, and the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Research libraries that are not associated with an academic institution are typically independent research libraries, like the Linda Hall Library. There are 21 members of the Independent Research Libraries Association. Some of the most well-known independent research libraries include the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, NY, and Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri.

What do I do at a research library?

When you visit a research library for the first time, there is a world of opportunity waiting for you. You can begin your quest for information with a visit to the library catalog, which typically will provide a searchable resource of the library’s collection. Alternatively, you might choose to work with highly trained research librarians to find the materials you need and who will help you navigate both the catalog and collection. You can access scholarly journals and articles to explore the library’s unique collections through the online catalog. Regardless of how you start your visit, a research library has many resources available to help support your research. As you navigate these unique spaces and collections, here are some tips on how to make the most out of your visit:

  1. Research: Research librarians can help you find sources necessary for your unique research projects. Using a variety of methods, including the reference interview, literature reviews, or citation analysis, research librarians can connect you with the primary and secondary sources that will support your research needs and questions. If you’d like to set up a research consultation with one of the Library’s reference and public services staff, visit this link. Research libraries typically have large, comprehensive collections that are made up of books, journals, conference proceedings, archival materials, and rare books. The last two – rare books and archival materials are typically held in special collections libraries or departments, and some people refer to their collections as historical documents.
  2. Study: Research libraries often serve as ideal study spaces with their quiet atmosphere and access to computers, books, and other resources. If you need a place to focus, a library is a great option. The Linda Hall Library also offers an urban arboretum, which provides a reflective, peaceful outdoor space, complementing LHL’s interior. For more information, check out the Linda Hall Library Arboretum.
  3. Connecting to Scholarly Networks: Research libraries provide many opportunities to build relationships with other researchers, students, faculty, and staff. The Library also supports scholars from around the world through its fellowship program. You can learn more about this year’s fellows by visiting this page.
    Many independent and academic research libraries host additional learning opportunities like workshops or seminars. Linda Hall Library offers a wide variety of in-person and online programs for lifelong learners, including our public programs and adult education classes.
  4. Explore: Libraries frequently have book displays, highlighting themes in their collections or significant materials that they hold. Research libraries also offer digital collections and exhibits, allowing you to explore collections from the comfort of your own home. Who knows what new avenues you might discover?

What is the process of research at a research library like?

The process of research at a research library will vary depending on the type of project you are working on and the library you want to attend. Many research libraries are only open to university students and faculty, while independent research libraries, like Linda Hall Library, are open to the public. However, it involves a few key steps:

  1. Identifying your research topic or question.
  2. Exploring existing resources such as the library catalog, online databases, and library Research Guides.
  3. Checking the library’s website to read about user and patron requirements.
  4. Developing search strategies to locate additional sources.
  5. Evaluating the sources that you find and using them to support your findings.
  6. Writing up your research findings in an organized way.
  7. Cite all sources you used throughout the writing process.

How do you handle rare books and materials appropriately?

When visiting a research library with special collections, there are proper ways to handle rare and historic books to ensure they are well taken care of. These libraries often contain rare, valuable items that must be handled with extra care. Each library will have its own set of handling guidelines for rare and fragile items. Here are some general things to remember when handling rare books:

  1. Book an appointment with your local research library to use select historic books.
  2. Follow all instructions given by the research librarian.
  3. Freshly washed hands are best when handling books and manuscript material.
  4. Do not use pens or markers anywhere near the materials.
  5. Do not bring food or drinks into the library area.
  6. Speak quietly and respect other researchers in the space.
  7. Return any material promptly after you are done using it.
  8. Notify the research librarian if you find any materials that need to be repaired or replaced.
  9. Replace any bookmarks and dividers before leaving the library area.
  10. Follow all other rules established by the research librarian or library staff.

Why are library databases important for research libraries?

Library databases are critical for research libraries because they provide access to a large amount of information. Databases can contain full-text searchable journals and articles and other types of content, like books, videos, case studies, and images. Other databases provide access to citation information but do not contain full-text access to materials. Research librarians can help you identify which databases have the material that is most relevant to your research project. With library databases at your fingertips, you will have an invaluable resource that will lead to greater success in completing your research.

As a library that emphasizes the collection and preservation of printed materials, Linda Hall Library subscribes to a single database, Compendex, used for helping patrons and staff search for and navigate the Library’s collection of industrial standards.

Can you make copies of research library materials?

In most research libraries, the ability to make copies of materials will depend on the type and condition of the item. Research librarians can provide specific guidelines for making copies of certain items. Depending on the age of the material, you may need to get permission from a copyright holder before making copies. Some libraries have additional restrictions in place regarding what types of items can be copied and how much can be copied at once. It is best to check with the research librarian or library staff before attempting to make any copies. Linda Hall Library’s policy on copying and digitization is available here.

When should I ask for research librarian help?

Researching in a research library can sometimes be overwhelming or confusing, so it is important that you seek help if you are ever unsure about something. You should not hesitate to ask the research librarian or library staff if you have questions about locating materials, using library resources, or need help with other research-related tasks. Our librarians and staff at the Linda Hall Library are specially trained to help you find the information you are looking for. They are there to assist you in making your visit successful! Read more about how to use our library.

What should I bring with me?

When visiting a research library, it is important that you come prepared for success. Here are some recommended items to bring along:

  • Pencil and paper – Writing notes and jotting down ideas can help make your research process more efficient.
  • Laptop or tablet – Many libraries offer Wi-Fi access, making electronic research a breeze.
  • Proper identification – You may be asked to show your school ID or other form of identification when entering the library space.

Visiting a research library can be both exciting and intimidating at first. However, by following these tips and guidelines, you can ensure that your research experience is successful. If you still have any questions about preparing for your first research library visit, ask a research librarian or library staff member!

Visit us today to learn more about research libraries and browse our selection of books and resources.