I’ve posted on our Museum library resources and how to research before but I thought the timing was right to once again remind students how to approach their research papers early in the semester instead of waiting until the final hour. So many of us put off the dreaded research paper until the end of the semester, but starting early not only results in more thorough, quality research and a better final paper, it also lessens our stress and makes us aware of how really interesting the process can be. So, try these steps and pace yourself, allow time to process your findings, and have fun!
Oh! And one more tip: if your instructor has assigned a particular work in the Museum for you to research, be sure to ask her/him if that work of art is currently on display. (Many of the late twentieth-century works were moved to storage to accommodate State of the Art. We will begin reinstallation of the permanent collection in that gallery in February.)
How to research library resources and services: the best place to start
Collect basic information about the work of art. It is unusual to find entire books or even entire articles devoted to one work of art, so be prepared to investigate all aspects of the work: artist, subject, culture, time period, style, movement, and so on.
Get all the information you can about the work of art. This includes title, artist, date, medium, the collection it is part of or where it was borrowed from and the museum’s accession number, if available. The accession number is especially critical if you do not know the artist of the work. Some museums make available a searchable database of their objects. Crystal Bridges recently made many of the works in our permanent collection available through our website.
Research basic encyclopedias for background information about the artist, time period, style, or movement. When working in the Museum Library, a reference librarian can assist you with dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other resources in print. A few of the print resources available at Crystal Bridges Library include:
Art books: a basic bibliography of monographs on artists Encyclopedia of American art Benezit Dictionary of Artists Encyclopedia of American art before 1914 Who was who in American art, 1564-1975: 400 years of artists in America. For those of you hoping to locate an artist’s signature, there is Peter Falk’s Dictionary of signatures & monograms of American artists : from the colonial period to the mid 20th century.
Oxford Art Online is a natural choice for an online encyclopedia of art and artists but is a licensed, subscription database and can only be accessed if you are in the Museum Library.
Search the Museum Library catalog for the artist, style, period, or movement you are researching by selecting “subject” from the drop-down menu to the left of the search box (last-name-first for artist). NOTE: Our Library catalog is online so you can conduct this phase of your research from home. If searching a particular artist, check your retrievals for a catalogue raisonné of the artist (a catalogue raisonné is a book that attempts to comprehensively document the works of one artist) which can be particularly helpful, as well as exhibition catalogs and auction catalogs.
A great place to continue your research is WorldCat OCLC FirstSearch, a licensed online subscription database accessible from Museum Library computers. OCLC FirstSearch provides seamless electronic access to many databases covering a wide range of topics and formats. WorldCat.org lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world to look for the book or item you need. After locating which libraries own a book of interest, you can then request the book be sent to you through your university or public library interlibrary loan. If you are a University of Arkansas student, you can learn more about interlibrary loan here.
Search electronic databases for periodical and journal articles about the artist, time period, style, or movement. JSTOR is one of the best resources for art publications and includes full-text content of more than 1,300 academic journals, as well as thousands of primary sources in the arts, humanities, and other disciplines. It is a licensed subscription database only accessible from Museum Library computers.
Researching online: a vast world of questionable information
It is tempting to research totally online; however, information online is not always credible, reliable, authoritative, or current. There are several ways to evaluate a website (Joe Baker’s Evaluating Web Pages: Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial is exceptional) and the American Association of Librarians (ALA) Reference User’s Association (RUSA) offers great suggestions for using primary resources on the web.
Admittedly, we all research online but developing habits that take you to the best quality resources will inevitably serve you well and help you avoid plagiarism which has consequences for the scholar or professional as well as the student. Nevertheless, online information is a vast world that can lead to powerful untruths if left unchecked. There are a few resources for researching works of art from home. One popular method for students is searching through Google Scholar where an increasing number of scholarly articles can be accessed. The Getty Research Institute offers many online credible sites as well as many digitized books. The Internet Archive has a growing number of digital books. The Smithsonian Research Information System (SIRIS) is a free online resource that includes searchable Archives of American Artists and Art Inventories See American Art Resources on the Museum Library website for a comprehensive list of quality online materials, and American Artists on the Museum Library website for direct links to good American Artists sites.
And remember, you may want return to the Museum for additional materials. Spend a day looking into our Museum Library vertical files. These are files containing articles, clippings, pamphlets, and other materials related to artists, museums, gallery exhibitions, and other topics. Ask the Reference Librarian if there are any vertical files related to the artist or artwork you are researching. The Museum Library offers manuscripts and archives that can be essential for your research.