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How to Do Literature Research


  1. Get an overview of the author’s life, main themes, techniques, etc. in such works as Great Writers of the English Language: Novelists (Poets), American Writers, British Writers, Authors and Artists for Young Adults, and Dictionary of Literary Biography (most of these are located on the "tent top" shelves).
  2. Get an overview of the work in such sources as Masterplots and the appropriate "For Students" series: Poetry for Students, Drama for Students, Novels for Students.

    Look for criticism on the work in both the circulating and reference sections. Reference materials have an "R" in front of the call number and cannot be checked out.

    When searching for criticism on the online catalog, the easiest way is to do a subject search. From the main menu, click Subject, type the writer’s last name, space, then first name, and click "Search".

    Example: Hughes, Langston

    You will see a list of subject headings. Choose the heading for "criticism and interpretation."  Depending on your topic, some of the other headings may also be helpful.  For more information on using the catalog for literature assignments, refer to the pathfinder "Locating Literary Criticism with the Birmingham Public Library Catalog."

  3. Look for journal articles

    You can find journal articles in a number of ways.

    You may search for journal articles using print indexes which are located on the index tables.  When you find a citation that sounds promising, look up the title of the journal in the red binders on the index tables.  If the title appears in the list, the library subscribes to it.  In the red binder, "Shelf" indicates it will be shelved alphabetically on the two rows to the left of the current periodicals. "Film" and "Fiche" are stored in the metal file cabinets to the right of the PC’s.

    Another method is to search the online databases such as Literature Resource Center and Literary Reference Center.

  4. Using Online Databases

    Each department at Central and each Jefferson County public library provides access to online databases. You can also access the databases from your home or school if you have Internet access and a valid library card.

    For remote access, go to and click on "Databases" in the upper, right-hand corner.  This takes you to a page entitled Online Databases, Magazines And Newspapers.  You will see a drop-down menu for "Database Quick Links" and a "Subject List" of databases.

    From the subject list, choose the heading for "Books, Literature & Writers."  The databases you will probably find most useful are Literature Resource Center, Literary Reference Center, and Academic Search Premier.

    For more information on using online databases for literature assignments, refer to the pathfinder "Literature Databases."


    Last but not least, always keep in mind that library staff are here to help you.  Don’t hesitate to ask!



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