In order to define the most effective strategy for your research you will have to do a great deal of work with reference materials, a wide variety of reference materials. A large part of planning your strategy will be identifying the sources you need and discovering the most efficient and thorough use of those sources. To plan a strategy for any research project one must always be conscious of the language and dates relevant to a particular topic. These seem like extremely obvious points but it is important to consider not just what publication period is of interest to you, but what kinds of resources will be available for researching that period. There are certain time periods, like 1855-1876, which have extremely good coverage in the printed sources for Russia. Not so the turn of the century.
The access points for research materials and the historical events that characterized the time in which those materials were published will be inextricably related. Those areas that were subject to severe censorship will present unique challenges to the researcher. By the same token, those countries that had "depository laws" for their national libraries, requiring the deposit of at least one copy in a national depository, often present the scholar with unique opportunities. The development of reference tools in a country will also affect access for the scholar. Those countries that lack a national bibliography may force the researcher to find other tools to identify the resources they need. The publication of encyclopedias, archival guides, biographical sources and other reference tools will also affect access to information.
How much do you know about library catalogs, encyclopedias, biographical resources, periodical indexes, language dictionaries, handbooks, bibliographies, and search mechanisms? Do you know how to identify and evaluate such sources in the Slavic area for your research?
Jacques Barzun, in his classic work on research technique supplies a list of a number of types of reference sources. His descriptions of these sources may need some elaboration to account for the changes of an electronic environment and the use of these sources in the Slavic field. Nevertheless, the categories are still a very useful guide to the researcher. Barzun includes the following types of sources in his classification of reference materials: encyclopedias, biographical resources, indexes to periodicals, dictionaries, language dictionaries, handbooks, and bibliographies.
The categories that have been most affected by the internet are perhaps those of dictionaries, indexes to periodicals, and bibliographies. With encyclopedias such as the Brokgaus and a wide variety of dictionaries available on the internet, resources that in the past required research trips or interlibrary loan requests, may now only require a trip to the computer. Periodical indexes have become widely available as well, although their retrospective depth, in most cases is still quite limited. The electronic versions of traditional sources are discussed with their paper counterparts.
The line between periodical indexes and bibliographies is in some ways blurred in an electronic environment. Many of the utilities that index large numbers of periodicals can be made to function as bibliographies. Services such as Current Contents, Web of Science and other resources provide a unique avenue to information previously filled by specialized bibliographies. Their search capabilities with functions that allow the scholar to limit to a specific periodical title or by subject combine many of the features of the traditional bibliography. Barzun's list must also be supplemented with the newer sources that pertain strictly to the electronic research environment: search devices and library catalogs.
In the days of printed catalogs, access was necessarily limited. Few catalogs were actually reproduced in published form. Today the use of microform and the internet has made it possible to see many of the catalogs for the world's greatest libraries remotely. The value for the scholar is enormous. It is now possible to pinpoint those collections in the United States that will be most useful for your research and to make your interlibrary loan queries far more efficient by searching for and identifying holdings of exactly what you need before you ever fill out the interlibrary loan request at your library.
Saying that is possible is not at all the same as saying it is easy. The strategy you use to identify the library can be efficient or tremendously time consuming, depending on your knowledge of library catalogs.