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Using Electronic Library Resources: a Guide for Home School Parents

Updated on April 22, 2015

First, Visit the Library

It's a corny and cliched saying, but your library really is your friend. And this friend relies on you for its very existence. You need to realize that public and school libraries are not free. They are free to use, but not free to operate. They rely on public support, not just monetary, but usage. Nothing warms a librarian's heart than seeing the library full. Here's a little-known fact: librarians keep statistics on practically everything. They count among other things, visits per day, questions answered, and database usage.

So, do something good for yourself and the librarians--use the library. You can visit the library without leaving your home. Most states now have statewide databases that allow library patrons to access articles and information from home electronically. You may need to go to your local library to find out the log-in and basic information for these databases. (While you're there, check out the latest bestseller. Print is still awesome.)

Topics: Tools for Deciding

Your students may have a small inkling in the back of their minds what they are interested in, but not enough to articulate it. But now that you have found out how to use the library's electronic resources, use them to get ideas for topics.

Most have a way to search or browse subjects. For example, In Ebscohost, you can click on the "subject terms" link for a list of terms that are available in the books and articles. Other databases may just have a "browse" link or a "thesaurus" link. Have your children look through these for ideas on what they can research. There's fun and serendipity in doing it this way. Plus, your students will see other topic ideas for future assignments.


Keywords, keywords, keywords. Phrase searching doesn't work as well. Use Boolean logic. (See video below.)

And if you're not getting very good results, try changing your keywords. For example, a student wanted to find articles related to how feminism had caused men's roles to change. He tried typing in "gender roles in society." He got thousands of hits, but none were quite pertinent to what he needed. I suggested searching "feminism and men," but that wasn't quite it either. We changed it to "feminism and male and roles." That did it. Researching is really a matter of just finding the correct words used in the books and articles that contain the information you need.

Truncating is another tool to use when trying to find more precise results. It is inclusive more than inclusive, meaning that it will tell the search engine to look for terms that are etymologically related to your keyword. Different databases use different truncation marks. Use their help feature to find out which the one you are using employs. For these examples, the asterisk will be used.

  • terror*-- will search for and return "terrorism," "terrorist," and "terrorists"
  • wom*--will search and return "women," "woman," "women's," etc.
  • nurs*--will search for and return "nursing," "nurse," "nurses"
  • trunc*--will search for and return "truncate," "truncation," and "truncating"

Video on Boolean and truncation searching

Now you know how to search library resources effectively

And there you have it. This article has served as a tutorial on using electronic library resources for your home-schooled student. More articles will follow on using the library and writing up your assignments.


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