Indexes and Abstracts
Information in magazines and journals is only as useful as your ability to find it. Because your library's catalog does not list the titles of the articles in all the periodicals the library owns, you need an additional set of tools to identify those article titles and retrieve the information they contain. Indexes are those needed tools.
A periodical index is a print publication or electronic database that shows the contents of journals and magazines in a particular organized fashion. For example, print indexes offer access to periodicals by author, title, or subject. Electronic databases, usually available on CD-ROM or the Web, provide more access points, such as keywords in periodical titles, abstracts, or (sometimes) full text. In fact, the introduction of keyword searching has reduced (although not eliminated) the need for subject headings for the average user. Using keywords in a search will generally lead you to the topic you are looking for.
A frequent companion to indexing is the abstract: a short descriptive paragraph that summarizes the content of the article, book, or other item. Abstracts are very helpful when searching electronic databases; they are keyword-searchable and provide article overviews which indicate whether or not articles are worth pursuing.
The H. W. Wilson Company is probably the best known publisher of general indexes; even staff in the smallest libraries should be familiar with Wilson's Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature.
Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. H. W. Wilson Company.
This standard tool indexes more than 300 general interest magazines from the United States and Canada, and includes a separate section for book reviews. It remains the best source for identifying old articles. The superb indexing and use of subject headings is one reason why this index, begun in 1890, is the first choice of many librarians. It is published semimonthly with quarterly and annual cumulated volumes. Additional features such as keyword searching, abstracts, and full text, are available in CD-ROM and online versions. An abridged version of the print edition of Readers' Guide, more affordable for the small - especially school - libraries, indexes approximately 75 magazines and is published monthly, September through May.
In addition to Readers' Guide, Wilson publishes a number of other well-known indexes, which are available in both print and electronic formats. Examples include:
Essay and General Literature Index - indexes more than 300 collections per year; covers the entire range of the humanities and social sciences, including literary works, art history, drama, and film.
Short Story Index - indexes (by author, title and subject) stories that appear in both books and periodicals.
Applied Science and Technology Index - covers leading trade, industrial, professional and technical society publications.
Book Review Digest - indexes, and provides excerpts of, reviews to more than 8,000 English-language fiction and non-fiction books each year. Not intended as a selection tool, but valuable when you need to justify keeping a book in your collection if it is challenged.
Library Literature and Information Science Index - indexes periodicals, conference proceedings, and library school theses, plus over 300 books per year. Like the indexes listed above, Library Literature is available both in print and electronically, and staff at Idaho libraries may access it through OCLC's FirstSearch. Contact the Idaho Commission for Libraries for the authorization number and password.
As mentioned earlier, electronic databases not only index articles and provide abstracts, but include full-text articles from many journals. EBSCO, Gale Group, H. W. Wilson (which produces indexes in print and electronic formats), SIRS, and ProQuest are among the major companies offering electronic access to indexing, abstracts and full-text articles.
Through LiLI (Libraries Linking Idaho) the Idaho Commission for Libraries has made available to all Idaho citizens a suite of electronic databases. These will be discussed in the next section.
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