Historical Research in the Modern Library

Originally developed for a class in the Society for Creative Anachronism, by Pani Jadwiga Zajaczkowa , Jennifer Heise

"In early days, I tried not to give librarians any trouble, which was where I made my primary mistake. Librarians like to be given trouble; they exist for it, they are geared to it. For the location of a mislaid volume, an uncatalogued item, your good librarian has a ferret’s nose. Give her a scent and she jumps the leash, her eye bright with battle."
Catherine Drinker Bowen (1897–1973), U.S. biographer. Adventures of a Biographer, ch. 9 (1959).

About Libraries * Reference  *  Serials/Periodicals * Special Collections/Rare Books * Dissertations and Theses * Microforms * Electronic Collections *  Photocopying * ILL: What to do if the Library doesn't have the item you want *  Classification Systems *  Reference Books * Finding Tools * Techniques of Searching *  Types of Sources * Copyright & Plagiarism * Internet Use * Citing What you Find * Other sites to check out

About Libraries

The first thing to do before beginning your research is to have a game plan. That means thinking about what you want to find out, then thinking about where you are likely to find it. 

For instance, are you interested in historical events? Or is there an object you want to research? Or are are you interested in researching a particular culture? If you are doing object oriented research, are you interested primarily in how to make one in the modern world, the appearance of the period object, the construction of the period object, or all three? How much information do you already have? If you are just starting out on A&S research, persona research, or learning a craft or activity, you may be looking for more generalized material; if you have mastered the basics of something and want period references and depictions to work from, you will be looking in different areas.

Different libraries have different types of collections, so you will want to plan your research and finding efforts based on the materials you are looking for. Also, different libraries offer different types of services, so that is a factor too.

Types of libraries:

What resources and what kind of help you can get often depends on what libraries you visit. It's often useful to start with the libraries that are most beholden to you, either because you are affiliated with them or they get public tax money. Even if the librarians cannot answer your question there, they can sometimes refer you to other libraries that can help you.

Before visiting a library, call (or email) to check out what access to the collections you may have. Certain private university and special libraries don't allow the public in, or require special ID or references, or limit times and collections that are available to the public. Some libraries will issue you a library card (for free or for a fee) to check out books even if you are not part of their primary clientele; others won't.

Most libraries have their catalogs available to the general public and searchable over the web
-- check to see if the library has a web site and look for their catalog there. Checking the catalog before visiting the library can save you a lot of time!
The American Library Association Directory will help you find information about libraries in a given geographic area. Most libraries have a copy.

Just for fun, check out The European Library, which allows searching the National Libraries of 30+ European countries: http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/portal/index.html Also see
Historical Research in Europe: A Guide to Archives and Libraries: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/HistResEur/

Many museums have library collections that may be open to the public. Call the museum or check out their web site to see what services are available. You may need a letter of recommendation or introduction-- if your local library is familiar with you, that's the first place to go for one of those.

Check with your local librarian for more cues about libraries to visit.

Reference:

Reference librarians will help you use the finding tools and get the information you need. Also, the 'reference collection' holds information finding tools and 'reference works' (collections of facts and data for quick look-ups). Reference books generally don't circulate, i.e., they can't be checked out of the library.
Reference librarians at your library can often be reached by phone, email, or even online chat: check out your library's web site to find out. The Library of Congress has a page for its chat and email services, at: http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/
Online, the Internet Public Libraries' reference section http://www.ipl.org/ offers a collection of electronic resources on various topics. Some reference works are available online through  www.bartleby.com.

The best way to get help and make the best use of a library's resources is to inquire at the reference desk! Reference librarians try to keep track of useful sources for research, in the library or on the internet.

Librarian Marylaine Block says: "Even when we've found exactly what our user wanted, many of us will keep on looking, keep on playing because we became more curious about the topic than our user did. Knowledge is a lot like a ball of yarn, and what we all do is tug at the end and pull it out, a little at a time, until we have just as much as our user needs.  But we also know that every bit of information we find gives us more clues, and that we could keep tugging and tugging until the whole ball lies in a little puddle of yarn on the floor."

Collections

Serials or Periodicals

The terms 'serials' or 'periodicals' collections are used to refer to a library's collection of magazines and journal subscriptions. Current issues are usually shelved separately; older ones are bound or on microfilm. Many libraries, especially academic ones, have 'electronic journal' subscriptions as part of their collection: articles from certain journal issues/volumes are accessed through the World Wide Web as HTML or PDF documents. Access to electronic journals may be restricted to the campus or current users, and printing may be restricted or involve a fee.

Some general history magazines, such as History Today, Archaeology Today, Smithsonian, Discovering Archaeology, may be worth simply sitting down and scanning through. Table of contents services, such as IngentaConnect (www.ingentaconnect.com), will let you search the tables of contents of multiple magazines/journals. To find periodical articles on particular subjects, however, you probably want to use an appropriate subject index.

Some journals and magazines are available free on the web: see http://www.findarticles.com and the Directory of Open Access Journals: http://www.doaj.org/ for examples.

'Circulating Collection' aka 'General Collection'

Library collections which can be checked out. Most can be searched using the catalog. Mainly books or 'monographs'; may include pamphlets, CD's, records, tapes, videotapes, CD-ROM, movies, and/or real objects along with books. (Monographs are one-off rather than 'serial' or repeating publications: sometimes monographs/books are published as part of series, and if you happen on the title of a relevant series, you can find other useful items in the series.) Generally circulating collections are in open stacks, where you can browse the shelves and retrieve the items yourself; older books are sometimes in closed stacks and you may need to request that they be retrieved for you.

Special Collections, Rare Books

Some libraries have collections of rare books and/or specific subject collections. You will want to call ahead before visiting special collections: they often have limited hours or hours by arrangement. There is a book (Subject collections : a guide to special book collections and subject emphases as reported by university, college, public, and special libraries and museums in the United States and Canada, by Lee Ash and William G. Miller), that lists some of them, and the American Library Directory will also tell you what special collections a library has. An online source that lists special collections departments is Repositories of Primary Sources  http://www.uidaho.edu/special-collections/Other.Repositories.html. You may need to contact the special collections librarian to make an appointment to see the collections-- they are usually in closed stacks. Leave pens, ink, food and drink, and anything else that might damage a book in the car when you go to visit special collections.

Government documents/document depository:

Many large local libraries and college libraries are U.S. Government 'depository' libraries, which means that they get some US Government publications for free in exchange for providing access and help with them to the public. How-to publications and materials from the Library of Congress are items that may be available as government documents. A private university library which is also a depository library is may be more open to the public than a non-depository.

Microforms

Older journals and reproductions of rare books are often found on microfilm (long rolls) or microfiche (cards). These may be listed individually in the library catalog, or may be a separate collection with its own index. Special reader equipment is required to view the microforms; many libraries have microform reader/printers that will allow you to print off copies of the pages for a fee.

Electronic collections, E-books, E-journals

Libraries buy access via the web, or on CD-ROM or other computer file, to finding tools such as indexes, as well as books, journals and collections of texts. Access to electronic resources may be restricted. Depository libraries get access to government documents 'on-line', as well. Most libraries catalog these resources, and many catalog free internet resources. Reference librarians can be a help with searching the Internet, also.

Many states and consortia have started online cooperative electronic collections: ask at your local and/or state library about this. In many cases, you will be able to access these resources from home by a link from your libraries' website (and providing your Library card number or other identification). Check with your local and state libraries to find out if any of these are available to you.

Photocopying

Most libraries have a photocopier on site. Some take coins or bills, others require special 'copy cards.' Some microfilm readers also allow printing from the microfilm. Some libraries charge for printing from their computers (or certain resources on their computers). You may want to call or email ahead to check prices for copying.

Interlibrary loan (ILL)-- What to do if the book you want isn't in your library

Many libraries can borrow books or copies of magazine and journal articles from other libraries, either in the public or university library system or from libraries throughout the world. You need to supply a full citation for the material, including a Library of Congress number or ISBN number if you can; there may be a charge. Generally, ILL can only be obtained through your local library, but district and academic libraries sometimes do ILL for people in their area. Be nice to ILL staff!

Futhermore, many library systems have what's called 'reciprocal borrowing agreements.' What that means is that if you have a valid library card with one library in the system, you can borrow books from other libraries in the system. For instance,  Pennsylvania and some other states have statewide public library reciprocal borrowing agreements, which allow you to borrow books from other public libraries in the state with a properly identified library card from your home library. Ask your library about reciprocal borrowing agreements with other libraries, and possible 'union catalogs' that would help you search multiple libraries' catalogs at one time.

Many libraries will not loan complete issues or bound volumes of journals. Use an index or an online table of contents service, such as IngentaConnect, formerly Uncover, ( http://www.ingentaconnect.com ) or check the Internet for the journal's online presence to find specific articles to request; such services usually include a sales (document delivery) component, where you can try to buy a copy of the article if your library can't get it for you.

The two major Interlibrary Loan Systems, OCLC and RLIN (neither abbreviation means much anymore), both have searchable union catalogs of their holdings. Also, reciprocal borrowing systems often have union catalogs (for instance, AccessPA in Pennsylvania). If you ask nicely, the librarian or ILL staff may be able to do a subject search for you or allow you to do a search yourself.

Be aware that rare books, reference books, and fragile volumes usually cannot be Interlibrary Loaned, and your chances of getting something through ILL are better if your library is a college or university library, or the lending library is within a library cooperative or library system with yours. Interlibrary loans take time; your library may be able to tell you a minimum time period to expect to wait, but from 1-2 weeks up to several months may be necessary.  Interlibrary loans generally do cost the borrowing library a fee; you may be asked to pay all or part of that fee.

If your local library will not attempt to do an interlibrary loan for you (this is rare but it happens) check with your state library about other libraries that may be able to help you. It's uncommon for university libraries to offer interlibrary loan privileges to non-affiliated users; but it's worth asking, if the library grants cards to non-affiliated users. In many cases, there is a 'reciprocal borrowing' system in place that will let you borrow a book from another library directly-- again, your state library can help you with those sorts of questions if your public library is uninformed.

Classification system

There are three major classification systems used in libraries: Dewey Decimal (numbers 000-999, with each 100 being a subject group, each 10 being a subject-- see http://www.oclc.org/dewey/resources/summaries/ ); LC, Library of Congress (1 and 2 letter alphabetic codes, followed by numbers-- see  http://lcweb.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/lcco.html ); and SuDocs, for government documents, where each alphabetic prefix is a different government division. Most public libraries use Dewey; most academic libraries use LC. (There is a modified Dewey system in use in theological libraries, and European libraries use a different one entirely.) Manuscripts and special collections items usually are listed by local system numbers, often organized by date of acquisition or characteristics of the donor/former owner.

Reference Books

'Reference books' are books that are generally used to look something up, rather than read or browsed through. Examples include encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, name books and timelines. In libraries, the items in the reference book collection are usually shelved separately and cannot be checked out of the library. Several collections of reference books on the web (warning: these are generally older editions or less popular works) The most accessible is Bartleby: www.bartleby.com About.com has a listing of medieval history reference sites on the web: http://historymedren.about.com/cs/referencetools/index.htm

Encyclopedias: collections of information on a wide variety of topics. There are general encyclopedias-- for example, the  Encyclopedia Britannica , which includes large essays on many historical topics-- and encyclopedias on specific topics, such as the Dictionary of the Middle Ages. (You can't always tell what kind of resource it is by the title!)
General encyclopedias that are available online include the Columbia Encyclopedia (through www.bartleby.com). You may have access to the Encyclopedia Britannica online through your local library's online subscription, and there's a small Encyclopedia, which appeared in print as the Merriam Webster Collegiate Encyclopedia , online  as the Concise Encyclopedia Britannica at: http://education.yahoo.com/reference/encyclopedia/

Atlases: books of maps. There are a number of historical atlases or country atlases. Often an atlas will give a succinct account of history, not just geography. I like McEvedy's  New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History  but there are many other good ones. Look for historical atlases of a country or subject, as well.

Dictionaries : Not only are there dictionaries of different languages (look in the 400's in a Dewey system), but there are specific dictionaries and glossaries for subjects, some of which will be in reference, some of which circulate. Web based dictionaries are also often available. For etymology of English words back to pre-1600 times, try the Oxford English Dictionary. Some libraries also have the Middle English Dictionary, and parts of this work are available free online at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/.

Names books: Many dictionaries of names and genealogical information are kept in reference; some libraries have specific genealogical sections where this material lives. 929.4 in Dewey libraries.

... on File : this isn't specifically a type of reference work. The publisher Facts on File puts out a line of '... on File' books that are looseleaf collections of reproducible images, including maps; they also put out timeline books and other basic reference works.

Timelines : Timeline tools are charts with annotations that help you compare events, people, or things in chronological order. Timelines of World History , put out by DK Publishing, is an example that many libraries have.

Metropolitan Museum's Timeline of Art History http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/splash.htm and Hyperhistory Online http://www.hyperhistory.com/online_n2/History_n2/a.html are online examples of these kinds of tools. Other online resources include the Food History Timeline: http://www.foodtimeline.org/

PhD. Dissertations and Master's Theses:

These documents, written to fulfill the requirements for a PhD (Doctoral) or Master's degree program, are not commercially published. Each academic library will have a collection of Doctoral Dissertations and Master's Theses written at its institution; it may also have copies of a few dissertations and theses from other schools in its circulating collection. However, in some cases, no copy of the dissertation or thesis may have been deposited with the library, so no copy is available at all!

Finding Tools

Indexes

The difference between an index and a table of contents service is generally that subject keywords or full text is searchable in addition to the text of the table of contents.

Some General Indexes:

Some Subject Indexes: Book Review indexes (help you find reviews of books before you order/buy them)

There is a listing of free indexes on the Web called "There is such a thing as a free lunch: freely accessible databases for the public" at http://www.istl.org/01-winter/internet.html  . However, it focuses mostly on Science and Technology databases. Many state library networks and local libraries offer some free online access subscription databases for local library card holders. See your local library-- you may well need a library card number to use the databases. (Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have such programs.)

Citation indexes: backwards bibliographies-- listings of which articles are cited in other articles' bibliographies. Generally in print, tiny print.  Bring a magnifying glass when you want to use these in print! Some libraries have these on CD-ROM or in a web version called Web Of Science. There is a significant learning curve to use them, but the effort is worth it.

Google Scholar includes some citation indexing also. There is an article on other citation/cited resources available here: http://www.lehigh.edu/library/guides/Citing/citations.html

Google Scholar

Google Scholar ( scholar.google.com ) is a metaindex to scholarly materials on the web, including electronic journal article services, free indexes such as PubMed, free table of contents services such as Ingenta, online e-texts of scholarly works (articles, books, theses), and proceedings, as well as OpenWorldCat. Google Scholar does not cover all scholarly works, or even all article services ; the article services it indexes generally do not provide free etexts, but will sell you copies. It does, however, include a Cited references function and makes it easy to connect to OpenWorldCat records using the Library Search button.

Catalog: the online database of a library's book and journal titles. Many libraries have their catalog available via the web. Try LibDex: http://www.libdex.com/ to find library catalogs.

Union Catalog : A catalog of multiple libraries' holdings. These used to be in print, but are now mostly online. County library systems, state library systems, and interlibrary loan groups have them. The most famous is Worldcat from OCLC-- you may need to have a librarian use this for you or pay to use it. You may want to check out the Library of Congress catalog, which is not really a union catalog: http://catalog.loc.gov . Check your state or regional library's website to see if they have a state or regionwide union catalog like Pennsylvania's AccessPA catalog: http://www.accesspa.state.pa.us/

OpenWorldcat

Open Worldcat is a program that makes library item records from OCLC's Worldcat catalog available in search engines such as Yahoo and Google. You'll recognize them by the 'Find in a Library' at the beginning of the item title. Clicking on the link gives you basic information about the book, and the opportunity to look for OCLC libraries near your zip code that have the book. If you want to search only Worldcat records,  go to http://www.worldcat.org/ Be aware that not all libraries are involved in Worldcat, and even if their information is in Worldcat, their holdings may not display in OpenWorldcat, and your local public library specifically may not be in there-- so be sure to check public library catalogs anyway. Bibliographies : lists of books and articles on a specific subject. Many libraries will have bibliographies in their reference section that will help you find older books and articles. Also, when you search the web, look for bibliographies on your subject. Some of them can be searched, such as the Royal Historical Society Bibliography , "an authoritative guide to writing on British and Irish history from the Roman period to the present day" http://www.rhs.ac.uk/bibl/bibwel.asp

Techniques of searching

First, write down what you want to know. List all the keywords that you can think of related to the topic. Then think about what kind of book (history, how-to, description, encyclopedia, dictionary) might have the information you want. Then start searching. First collect background material from reference books. Then use catalogs and indexes (and browsing) to build a list of materials to consult.

Subject headings

Most indexes and catalogs let you search by subject. It's important to know what vocabulary to use. For library catalogs, take a look at the Library of Congress Subject Headings. You should also make a note of the subject headings (and see: and see also: references) in the indexes you are using. The principle of specificity states that a book or article is categorized under the most specific subject term that fits, so you may have to search a bit.

Many catalogs (and indexes) will let you both keyword search (search by terms that can be in the subject, title, or notes, including any tables of contents that might be included) and also browse by subject heading. If you pull up an entry for an interesting book and see that the subject headings are hyperlinked, try clicking on them to see if there are other books under that subject. Such links, however, mostly only link to the exact subject heading, so you can also try typing (or cut and pasting) the subject heading into the Subject Browse.

Browsing by Call number

We're all familiar with finding a few good books in the library catalog and then going to those call numbers and browsing the shelves to see what else interesting is in that area.

However, many newer library catalogs give you the opportunity to browse the shelves electronically and see what else is under that call number. Look for 'Call number browse' buttons in the catalog, or highlighted/hyperlinked call numbers in the catalog entries for specific books. Call number browsing will let you check out the shelves from home, and also see what books might be currently unavailable, at another location or checked out.

Other kinds of searches

Library catalogs, indexes and other searching tools generally will also allow you to searh by Author name and Title; most will also let you limit your search by date, language, publisher, and type.

Searching by author and/or title is good for what librarians call 'known item' searching: looking for something you know exists. If you are looking for a specific book, it may be worth your while to search by the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) but remember that different editions of a book will have different ISBN numbers!

You can also use author searches to look for related works, in library catalogs or in journal indexes.

Boolean operators

Computerized systems (library catalogs, journal indexes) use Boolean operators, such as AND, OR, and NOT, to combine terms.

Try these on Altavista's advanced search page: http://www.altavista.com/web/adv

Some systems will automatically compensate for multiple spellings; others will not. Look at the database's HELP to find out what "truncation" operator they use (* and $ are common). Truncation allows you to retrieve all words beginning with a certain string (shoe* might get you shoes, shoemaker, etc.)

Pearl Growing-- a search strategy

Find one or two items that are what you are looking for. Go to the indexes, the catalogs, and look up those items, then use their entries to look for more like them: use the subject headings, the author names, publishers, etc. Use bibliographies and citation indexes; look for items under the same subject headings and by the same authors. Most modern catalogs and indexes will actually make subject headings, author names, etc. into hyperlinks you can click to search for more items with those characteristics.

Types of sources

Dividing sources into primary/secondary/tertiary is a vexed question. Different fields do this different ways. Be aware that some fields are more stringent on this than others: some people consider a painting a primary source, others don't. This is one classification: Be aware that depending on what you want to know and what stage you are in your research, primary sources may not be the best place to begin. Tertiary sources can give you an overview of the subject, and secondary sources can compare and contrast materials that you might not otherwise know of, or summarize for you information that you don't have the resources to collect yourself, from inventories, records, remote locations, etc.

And sources from period, even primary sources, can be misleading or biased. It's a good idea to consider the reliability of a source more heavily than its type.

Is it a good source?

To analyze the reliability of a source: look for a bibliography ; check the credentials of the author and publisher; check for obvious biases (does the author have an axe to grind?); consider the audience the book is written for. If possible, check out the items on the bibliography-- are they primary sources? Are they academic publications? Look for qualifying statements instead of absolutes. In general, analyze print and Web sources the same way (see 'Evaluating Information on the Internet' and Critically Analyzing Information Sources (http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/research/skill26.htm) from Cornell's Library ). Note that even primary sources can be unreliable , if they are biased or discussing something the author never saw.

A good article on the pitfalls of medieval history research is 'No Trivial Matter: Accuracy in Medieval Trivia' by Melissa Snell: http://historymedren.about.com/library/weekly/aa061400a.htm . Also see 'Tools of the Trade: the search for truth in Medieval and Renaissance History' by the same author: http://historymedren.about.com/library/weekly/aa092997.htm

Copyright & Plagiarism

Anything put in fixed form is copyrighted to the author (or whoever buys the copyright from the author). That means that the author, or the owner of the copyright, has the right to determine who can distribute the work, within certain 'fair use' limits. You should not copy and distribute other people's materials without permission. That includes written work, sound recordings, video, and material on the web! Copyright persists for up to 70 years after the death of the author, depending on when the material was created; if it was 'work made for hire' for a company, copyright persists College student or 120 years from creation. There are specific 'fair use' provisions to the copyright law that allow for certain limited kinds of copying for research and education (see the Copyright Office's web page: http://www.copyright.gov ), but you need the copyright owner's permission to copy significant portions of a work or to reprint something.

Plagiarism is reproducing or using someone else's work without attributing it
. Even if you only use a small portion-- a sentence or two-- or just use someone's ideas, if you don't give them credit, you are plagiarizing from their work. It is NEVER ok to plagiarize anyone's work-- that is theft!  A good source explaining plagiarism and copyright, and how to avoid plagiarizing, is  Synthesis: Using the Work of Others, at the University of Maine:  http://plagiarism.umf.maine.edu/

Internet use:

"If the Net *is* a library, then it's adding a new wing today (overnight), while removing another; and all  the books at the Reserve Desk are being moved to a new location; the online catalog is being augmented  by three new tools, (one of which is free, one of which was written by the new person in Dept. A); the  entire phono disk collection just disappeared; any number of users can simultaneously check out the latest  issue of the Journal of Obscure Chemistry; the Reference department works at home now, and we just  discovered 10,000 new books in a part of the library that we swear wasn't there yesterday. And  tomorrow will be different..."
  -- Rick Gates You'll notice that as you use the web you find mostly beginner stuff, very tertiary sources, some primary sources, and a lot of junk. (See 10 Reasons Why the Internet is No Substitute for a Library , http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/selectedarticles/10reasonswhy.htm American Libraries, April 2001; and Marylaine Block's "What's Not on the Net": http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib150.html ) This is because a) 75% of what is on the internet is junk, and b) people don't want to give away high quality information-- they want to get paid for it! That doesn't mean you can't find good stuff: bibliographies, catalogs, stuff written/posted by other SCAdians, journal articles, glossaries and teasers put up by commercial publishers, etc. The Web is often a good place to start your research, but it's imperative to read with a very critical eye for bias and reliability. A good book on this topic is Web Wisdom: how to evaluate and create information quality on the Web, by Tate and Alexander.

Another good background article, on how to use Primary Sources on the web and how to evaluate sources, is put up by some history librarians: Using Primary Sources on the web: http://www.ala.org/ala/rusa/rusaourassoc/rusasections/historysection/histsect/histcomm/instructionres/usingprimarysources.cfm

Specifically for SCAdians, Karen Larsdatter wrote an article on "Using the Internet for Research & Documentation" in Tournaments Illuminated #145 (Winter 2003): http://www.geocities.com/karen_larsdatter/using_the_internet.htm This article includes both links to good sources and citation styles for online sources.
For some guidelines on searching the Web and using web resources, try:

The Search Engines page I use for this class: http://gallowglass.org/jadwiga/SCA/searchengines.html

"And though it may sound like heresy coming from someone who lives and breathes web search, sometimes your best bet for finding information is to log off and take a trip to your local library. Libraries have tons of resources that aren't available on the Web. And librarians are trained experts who are usually more than willing to help you find what you're looking for. When you're getting nowhere on the Web, take advantage of these (usually very nice) 'human search engines.'"
-- Chris Sherman, "Seven Stupid Searching Mistakes, Concluded". SearchEngine Watch, 28 March 2002: http://www.searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2159571

Citing What You Find

Including a complete citation for sources not only helps other people find the material you found-- but helps you get back to those sources later.

The three main citation formats are University of Chicago (the Turabian term paper manual is a variant of this), American Psychological Association, and Modern Language Association. There are all kinds of special rules in their handbooks for how to cite material- most libraries will have the handbooks for you to check. One good source for checking out citation formats is Dartmouth College's Sources: their use and acknowledgement : http://www.dartmouth.edu/~sources/

In general, it's less important what format you use than that you inclued the information needed to find the item again.
What should go into a citation:
Journal/Magazine article:
  • Author of the article
  • Title of the article
  • Title of the Journal/Magazine
  • Volume and Issue 
  • Date of publication
  • Page numbers
Book:
  • Author(s) or editor(s)
  • Book Title
  • edition and/or volumes, if any
  • Place of Publication
  • Publisher name
  • Date of Publication
Web site:
  • Author, if any
  • Title of the article
  • Title of the site if it is part of a bigger site
  • Sponsor of the site if known
  • Date viewed
  • URL (web page address)
Article in an edited book
  • Author of the article
  • Title of the article
  • Title of the book
  • Editor of the book
  • Place of Publication
  • Publisher name
  • Date of  Publication
  • Page numbers

One way to test your skills in citation is the Citation Game: http://depts.washington.edu/etriouw/gameindex.htm

Other sites to check out:

"I have always maintained that librarians are the ultimate share-your-toys people, and that the worst punishment you could inflict on any of us is to offer to show us an incredibly useful free resource but only if we swear not to tell another living soul about it." -- Marylaine Block, Ex Libris

One site with good instruction in Research Strategies is the Federated University of Surrey's Researcher's Companion : http://www.federalsurrey.ac.uk/researcherscompanion/ Here are a few sites that cover Research and Documentation for the SCA:

And other general sites:

Glossary of Abbreviations: