Once you have identified materials that you need it will be essential to find the collections, in this country and abroad, that will be most useful to your research. It will also be important when writing grants to identify those materials that are only available overseas. Library catalogs will be essential in this step in your research.
Since their migration to an electronic environment library catalogs have become deceptively easy to use. They are deceptive in the sense that the researcher must be aware when initiating a search what the catalog contains and if the records are consistent in their format. That is, does the catalog include all the libraries records or only those received in the library from a particular date? Do all records include subject headings? In some catalogs, like the one at the University of Illinois, the online catalog does have records for all the items in the collection. However, millions of those records have no subject headings. Does the library have uncatalogued material that might be of importance for your research? Many libraries had a practice of not cataloging newspapers. Thus the researcher will often not find holdings for titles like Pravda in an online catalog. Again, this is the case at the University of Illinois for such titles as Moskovskiia viedomosti, Pravda, Izviestia and several others. Other practices that can confuse the issue include cataloging part of a serial run, but not the entire title. Thus, Moskovskiia viedomosti is displayed with only a few years of holdings in the University of Illinois library catalog when in fact most issues for the 19th century are available here.
There is also a long standing problem with regard to library catalogs that every researcher should keep in mind. It is particularly important in working with serial publications. Many scholarly publications are issued by institutional bodies such as pedagogical institutes, universities, and academies of science. Such publications can be entered variously. Thus, the Uchenye Zapiski of the Moskovskii Gosudarstvennyi Pedagogicheskii Institut can appear in several formats:
- Moscow. Gosudarsvennyi Pedagogicheskii Institut. Uchenye Zapiski
- Moscow. Moskovskii Gosudarstvennyi Pedagogicheskii Institut. Uchenye Zapiski.
- Moskovskii Gosudarstvennyi Pedagogicheskii Institut. Uchenye Zapiski
- Uchenye Zapiski (Moskovskii Gosudarstvennyi Pedagogicheskii Institut)
- Uchenye Zapiski Moskovskogo Gosudarstvennogo Pedagogicheskogo Instituta.
The researcher would be counting on cross-referencing to guide him/her through the catalog. Unfortunately, such cross-references are not always available. This example is included here simply to make the point that forms of entry vary widely and when a title is not located under one heading all possibilities must be pursued.
Another problem that exists concerns the use of what are referred to as “union catalogs”. These are resources that include the holdings of several libraries- OCLC (a.k.a. WorldCat) is an example of an electronic resource of this type. The best known paper resource of this type is perhaps, the National Union Catalog. Other titles of the same type include the Slavic Cyrillic Union Catalog, Union List of Serials, Serial Publications of Foreign Governments, Newspapers in Microform.
In all cases the catalogs are chronologically specific. That is, there are specific dates of coverage included in these sources. Therefore, when the researcher is deciding which catalog to use, the dates of publication for the material he is seeking will be one of most important factors guiding his selection of reference sources.
The online catalogs were begun in the 1970s and frequently do not have records of older titles. When you identify a library that has a number of items in your subject area it is often useful to search that particular collection. The Slavic Cyrillic Union Catalog/Cyrillic Union Catalog or the National Union Catalog can be used to identify collections with substantial holdings on a particular subject. However, it may not be easy to search the holdings of individual libraries beyond the online catalog. This is because many libraries did not have printed catalogs.
Once you have identified the library that holds material, it is essential that you check whatever information is available at the library site to determine what the library holds. Remember that the online catalog may only display a portion of the library’s collection.