It’s that time of year again where many librarians are frantically preparing for the start of the new academic year. Every year I find myself updating and revamping what is partly the same information; style and format changes, interfaces are updated, subscriptions change providers, we get some new resources and cancel old ones, live in a world of information overload and mobile technologies and can hardly even remember life before Google.Yet some things remain unchanged, and one of these is that if one wants to find journal articles, it’s a good idea to consult a bibliographical database. Whether that happens by sitting in front of print runs of RILM, Music Index, Bibliographie des Musikschrifttums and Arts and Humanities Citations Index and leafing laboriously through page after page of small print – yes, that’s what most of us had to do until not very long ago – or by clicking on a link very usefully and magically provided on screen (not by Google in this case I’m afraid but either by a cross search system or the individual database providers) it still helps to know that there is such a thing as a bibliographical database in the first place and what one can expect to find in it.
So what is a bibliographical database? It will tell you what has been published where, by whom and when. They mostly list journal articles, but can also include books and other publications. Once you know what has been published, you can then check library catalogues to see whether what you are looking for is available in Cambridge. Sometimes you can follow a link straight from the database. If an article or book isn’t available, the UL may be able to order it for you either through document delivery or interlibrary loan.Oh yes, before I forget, this is useful for undergraduates too. A reading list will, after all, only take you so far and there are such things as essays to write… So, this isn’t the same as JSTOR at all, or as other online full text subscriptions. They will provide you with a selection of actual articles, but don’t offer the same level of comprehensiveness. Anyway, for the first time ever at Cambridge University, all four of those fabulous databases can be searched online. Admittedly not simultaneously but nevertheless, the older runs of Bibliographie des Musikschrifttums (1936-1950) excepted, there will be no more leafing!
As far as the anything else is concerned, soon this year’s Research Skills Programme will start where everything will be revealed.