Contemporary Canadian Government & Politics:
A Practical Research Guide

Introduction   Starting   Clarifying   Bibliographies   Finding & Evaluating
Primary Sources   Special Topics   Citing Sources   Ask Your Librarian!   Detailed Table of Contents
4. Finding and Evaluating Substantive Information
Finding Information Evaluating Information

Finding Information: Books

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Scholarly books, generally written by professors, edited and supported by reputable university presses, should form the backbone of an academic research project. These books usually provide deeper and wider coverage of an issue than articles do. Reading a few key scholarly books on your topic can save much research time further on.

Books on Canadian government and politics also exist in many other forms: Explanatory textbooks, narrative histories, statements of political philosophy (such as Pierre Trudeau's "The French Canadians"), political biographies, and others. It will depend on your research project which, if any of these types of books are appropriate as well.

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Library Catalogues:
Search your library’s catalogue to find out what books are immediately available to you. Search the larger Canadian libraries’ catalogues and union catalogues, if you have the time (and in some cases, the money), to request a book through interlibrary loan which your library does not own. Part 8 has links to different kinds of libraries and their catalogues.
NOTE: Some libraries do not have their full collections entered into their online library catalogue. When searching for older material especially, make sure to check the holdings statement on the online catalogue's main screen or help section, or ask a Reference Librarian.
Title Subject Keyword Combining Keywords Phrase Truncation Browsing the Stacks
Title Search:
If you have a reference to a particular book from a bibliography, a recommended reading list, or other reference source, the most efficient way to find the book in a library is to do a title search (ie. search for the title by selecting the title field and typing in the book title. Library catalogue systems vary in exactly how this is done, but the online examples or instructions are usually easy to follow.)
TIP: Most online library catalogues require you to drop the preposition (the, a, an, etc.) at the beginning of a title (e.g. for the title: A History of the Vote in Canada you enter the title search as: history of the vote in canada).
If you only know the author’s name and a word or two from the title, do a keyword search by combining the two: type smith in the author field and politics in the title field. Different catalogue systems will allow you to do this in various ways. Read the instructions or ask for assistance from a reference librarian.
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Subject Search:
When searching by SUBJECT, you cannot enter any word you can think of, as you can when doing a keyword search. Subject terms in good indexes and library catalogues are specific terms that the cataloguers have chosen to cover a topic. This allows all books on a topic to be found with one search, whether they have that term in their title or not.

It is important to find the subject terms used for your topic or you risk not finding the most relevant books available. Most university libraries in North America and large libraries in the English-speaking world use the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

Library of Congress Subject Headings. Washington, DC: Library of Congress. 24th ed., 2001. (a.k.a. “The big red books”) LCSH is the most comprehensive list of subject headings in print in the world.

A Canadian list of subject headings is also used where the LC subject headings are not specific enough for Canadian topics.

Canadian Subject Headings. Ottawa: National Library of Canada.
In Print and on the Internet. Updated with semiannual, cumulating supplements. The Internet version is the entire, cumulated list.

One way to find the appropriate headings for your topic is to consult the lists of Canadian subject headings and Library of Congress subject headings. Increasingly, the information is found on online catalogues as well, although the headings provided in these will be limited to the books available in that library.

The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and Canadian Subject Headings lists also function as a thesaurus and can be very useful for finding related terms, narrower and broader terms.

Guide to LCSH abbreviations:
BT = Broader Term
NT = Narrower Term
RT = Related Term
UF = Used For (E.g. term 1 is Used For– or used instead of -- term 2)

The following are some commonly used LC subject headings for books on Canadian politics and government:

Canada – politics and government
Federal government – Canada
Federal-provincial relations – Canada
Political Parties – Canada
Political Leadership – Canada
Elections – Canada
Politicians – Canada
Voting - Canada

For subject headings on more specific topics see Special Topics
TIP: Look for the most specific subject heading first, then broaden your search if you need to. (Books are generally catalogued only using the most specific headings that apply.)
For biographies, the person is the subject, so you can search by subject using the person's name (usually last name first): e.g. Trudeau, Pierre.
NOTE: This will find books about Trudeau. For books by Trudeau (ie. books he wrote), search for Trudeau in the Author field.

TIP: (Always check the library catalogue's help screens for exact search instructions. Systems vary.)
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Keyword Search:
When searching by keyword you will retrieve books that use that word anywhere in the record, unless you can limit the search to a particular field. The word might occur in the subject field, the title or author field, etc. There are 3 major drawbacks with this kind of search:
  1. You might find far too many books (especially if your keyword is a commonly used word);
  2. You might find many books that use the same word but in a totally different subject area; and
  3. You might miss out on finding the most relevant books that happen to use a synonym or a different word. For these reasons searching with subject headings (a form of controlled vocabulary) is often more efficient.
A keyword search can, however, be useful if you are having trouble finding anything on your topic. If you don’t know which subject headings exist for your topic, you can try keyword searching first. Be as specific as you can. Imagine what the perfect book title would be and use those words. Only if you need to, use broader (or more general) terms. If you find a book that looks appropriate, make sure to see the full record that will show you the subject headings applied to it. As you go through the catalogue listing of books found by your keyword searches, write down the subject headings and subheadings that seem most appropriate for your topic and try them each as well (as subject searches). This will usually help you find more appropriate books that just didn't use the keyword you did, but are on the same subject.

Keyword searching can be very powerful if the library catalogue system allows it. Make sure you check the search instructions to find out how to use it to your best advantage.
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Combining Keywords:
You can make your search more specific, or broader, by searching with more than one keyword at a time. Consider which words are the main ones that describe your research question. (e.g. the topic: the influence of polls on voting behaviour, has two main concepts. Your keyword search will have to combine the concepts of polling and voting.) Combining keywords in online searching is done using Boolean operators. "And" and "Or" are the most often used. There are several others such as "Not", "Near", "With", etc. These words are used to specify the ways in which you want the keywords combined.
AND - use to find all items which contain BOTH the words
(e.g. polls AND voting)
- narrows the search
OR - use to find all items which contain EITHER one OR the other term
(e.g. polls OR public opinion surveys)
- broadens the search
NOTE: To combine these two phrases, parentheses need to be used to ensure that they are searched in the proper order: voting AND (polls OR public opinion surveys)
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Phrase Searching:
Many library catalogues are set up so that adjacency is the default. (ie. two or more keywords entered without a Boolean operator between them will be searched together, in the order given, e.g. public opinion surveys). If the catalogue is set up so that the Boolean operator AND is automatically inserted between keywords you enter, then you may get far too many "hits", and many of them could be totally irrelevant, since you will get records that have the three keywords in any order, in any field.
NOTE: This is especially a problem in some Internet search engines, where the default Boolean operator is OR. In this case typing the three words: public opinion surveys will get you as many web sites as if you typed public OR opinion OR surveys ! (ie. anything that includes either one of those words in isolation or together).
If adjacency is not automatic, then you will have to specify you want the keywords to be searched together like a phrase. This can be done using the ADJ operator between each word, or more commonly by using quotation marks. (e.g. "public opinion surveys"). It is very important to know how your system works. Always check the online help screens.
Title Subject Keyword Combining Keywords Phrase Browsing the Stacks Back to the Library Catalogues
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In order to avoid having to think of all the possible endings a keyword may have or variants in spellings at the end of a word, you can make sure your search retrieves all possibilities by truncating a keyword. For example, behaviour (Canadian spelling) and behavior (American spelling) may be used equally in the useful books on your topic. To find them all with one keyword search you can truncate the word behaviour. (E.g. typing: behavio* would retrieve books with either spelling.)
NOTE: The truncation symbol varies in different online systems so make sure to check the search instructions. (Asterisk (*) is the most common, $ or ? are also sometimes used.)

TIP: Do not try to truncate a word that is too small. Most systems cannot handle a word truncated to three or less letters. (E.g. voting would have to be truncated to three letters to ensure retrieving all of its possible endings (vote, voter, voters, voting, etc.). Most catalogue systems would not allow it or could take so long to process it that it is not worth doing.
NOTE that another problem appears if truncation is not used carefully: the word "votive" has nothing to do with the concept of "voting" but the above keyword search could have retrieved books on candles and other irrelevant things, as well as books on voting.
TIP: A quick way to find books on a subject is to look up the titles of books you already have or know about, or are on your reading list, and see the full cataloguing record for each. Jot down the subject headings used for these books and then do subject searches using those headings.
Title Subject Keyword Combining Keywords Phrase Truncation Back to the Library Catalogues
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Browsing Library Stacks (or understanding Call Numbers):
Just as most university and large libraries in the English-speaking world use the Library of Congress subject headings, they also classify books by the the LC classification system. The principle is to assign a unique code to every individual book based on its main subject, so that each book has a specific place on a library shelf, can be found there by its call number, and will be located with other books on the same subject. Once you know the call number for a good book on your subject you will be able to browse the shelves in the same area to find more.
NOTE: Subject headings provide more detail. (Remember a book can only be in one place on the shelves, but it can have dozens of subject headings (usually 2-6). Most books cover several related subjects, some multi-disciplinary books can be very valuable but shelved with the other discipline. Also, books are sometimes separated into special collections kept in different parts of a library. For all these reasons it is not recommended you rely on browsing alone to find books on your topic.
In the Library of Congress system, a typical call number for a book on Canadian politics looks like this: JL 75 .W5 1998

This is the call number for the book: Introduction to Canadian Politics & Government by White, Wagenberg and Nelson.

JL 75 = subject: Canadian politics
W5 = Letter for the first author's name and a number to make it unique
1998 = publication year

The Dewey Decimal System (the classification system used by most school and public libraries in Canada), organizes books into ten disciplines, 100 divisions and 1,000 sections. Each digit added to the call number represents more detail within that discipline.

A Dewey call number for the same book might look like this: 320.971 W589

e.g. 300 = social sciences
320 = political science
.971 = Canada
W589 = Letter for the first author's name and a number to make it unique
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Students should not overlook their textbooks as a source for finding other books on their subject. Most good textbooks will have lists of recommended books for further reading after each chapter and / or a bibliography or reference list at the end. The advantage of using these is that the books listed were selected by the author of the textbook, so will likely be appropriate for your level of research.

Selected textbooks are listed in Part 2: "Overview & Background Information".
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Research Guides, Bibliographies and Indexes:
The best books for academic research can be found by using a research guide or annotated bibliography written by an expert who has pre-selected the major works for you.

Most subject bibliographies and some article indexes include books. In printed bibliographies and indexes, read the preface or other introductory pages that explain whether books or book chapters are indexed. For online indexes, read the introductory screen or online help files.

Once you have identified some useful books using these tools, you will then need to determine whether your library has the books by looking them up in your library's catalogue. Check the list of references or bibliography in the back of each book you consult for further leads to useful books on your topic.

For most research projects, you will need to find additional material as well. There are many ways to do this. Not one of them is always best, nor should one method be the only one you use. For best results, use a variety of methods suited to your research topic.
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Online Bookstore Catalogues:
Although they brag about the number of books in their databases, compared to library union catalogues which combine the holdings of many libraries, online bookstores like, can't compete. Canadian versions, like have even fewer books. But these databases can be useful to identify current books in print, especially when they include additional information about the books such as the table of contents, the book jacket summary, or reviews. Once you have identified useful books you can search for these titles in your library.
Online Books:
Not many current books on Canadian politics (or any other topic for that matter) are available for free on the Internet in full text. This is due to copyright restrictions and the fact that writers and publishers want to earn money for their work. Only some much older books have no copyright restrictions and can be included in online book collections for free. (These will mostly be too old for the topic of this guide.)

The Canadian Government, however, is required by law to publish information and to disseminate it widely to the Canadian public. They have chosen to do this by making many of their public documents available on the Internet. Note that the Canadian Government still retains copyright (called Crown copyright), which means that the regular copyright restrictions apply.

What should you be looking out for when searching for books? See "Evaluating Information: Books"
Scholarly Research Analysis & Reports Current Events / News Other Academic Works
Government Information Political Party Information Research Organizations Videos
Finding Information Evaluating Information
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Introduction   Starting   Clarifying   Bibliographies   Finding & Evaluating
Primary Sources   Special Topics   Citing Sources   Ask Your Librarian!   Detailed Table of Contents

Created and maintained by Anita Cannon, Librarian
R. P. Bell Library   Mount Allison University   Mount Allison Centre for Canadian Studies
Last Updated: July 30, 2007