3. Locating and Accessing Sources

Once you have identified a resource that may be helpful in your research, you now need to locate it and access it. For example, your reading of a Wikipedia article may have identified a particular book that is considered the leading work on the subject, or an article that was a groundbreaking advance in the subject. The following strategies may be helpful in finding a copy of that book or article so that you can access, use, and cite the information it contains.

Local Academic Libraries

Is there a college or university close to you? If so, you may be able to access the resources of their library. This would be especially helpful if a seminary, Bible college, or university with a religion department is located nearby. Any of these schools would have books related to Christian ministry and theology as a part of their basic collection, and they are often willing to let visitors read them.

Finding an Academic Library

One way to locate an academic library is to use the library directory at www.libdex.com. This website has an extensive listing of libraries in countries all over the world. Go to your country’s page, then to your state/province, and then to your city, and you will find a list of libraries in your area. You might be surprised at what is already near you. The worldcat.org site, as mentioned earlier, will also let you know what libraries are near you.

In a similar vein is the “Repositories of Primary Sources” page on the University of Idaho website (https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/special-collections/t-abraham/Other.Repositories.html). This page organizes links to libraries throughout the world that have special collections of primary sources. There is some duplication between this page and Libdex, especially in the U.S., but if you are looking for an original document of a primary source this page could be helpful. It has not been updated since 2015, and since document URLs often change, its usefulness is diminishing.

Public Access to an Academic Library

Policies on outside use of the library vary from school to school. As our example, we will look at the policy of the Divinity Library at Duke University in Durham, NC. Their policy is typical of a large institution in a major city. If you live near Duke you can go there, walk into the library, and read anything you want. U.S. copyright law permits students to photocopy selections from books (but not the entire book) for purposes of research.

So you could find the information you need in a book at the Duke Library and photocopy the page with the quote you want to reference in your paper. Be sure to write down, on the photocopy, all the bibliographic information you will need to properly cite the source of the quote, because you will not have access to the book once you get home (although in most cases the bibliographic information is also available through their online library catalog). Copyright law allows you to photocopy portions of a book, not the whole book.

Some libraries give full library privileges to visitors for a fee. Some seminaries give clergy library privileges for free. If there is an academic library within driving distance of you, it is worth checking out their visitor policy. You may be able to access a world-class research facility for free or for a small annual fee.

Your Local Public Library

Even if there is no academic library nearby, your local public library can be a good place for research. Depending on the size of your city and the resources allocated to your local library system, the public library may have a surprisingly wide collection of books and journals on Christianity, ministry, and theology. Before going to more extreme measures to locate a book or journal article, check to see if your local library has a copy.

Almost all public libraries in the U.S. participate in the Interlibrary Loan system. If your local library does not have the book you need, you can file a free, or relatively low cost, interlibrary loan request, and your local library will find that book in the collection of another library in the U.S. and borrow it so that you can check it out.

The potential of using interlibrary loan is another good reason for starting work on your research paper right away, at the start of the semester. The process of obtaining a book through interlibrary loan can take a few weeks. If you request it early enough, then you will have it in time to use it in your research. You can also expedite the process by providing your local librarian with all the necessary bibliographic information, such as the ISBN of the book. The less work the librarian has to do in identifying the book, the faster the process will go.

How do you get the bibliographic information, including ISBN, if you don’t own a copy of the book? Go to www.amazon.com and look it up. As part of their description of the item, they will include the publisher, date of publication, and ISBN. WorldCat.org also has that information, and it is the database that most interlibrary loan departments use.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

The Christians Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL www.ccel.org ) is an excellent online resource for accessing books from Christian history that are now in the public domain. This includes almost all of the writings of the Church Fathers, many resources from the Reformation, and even some works from the 19th and early 20th centuries. All the books at CCEL can be accessed for free, although some downloadable formats are available only for a fee, and CCEL does ask for donations to help support their work. Their collection is searchable by title, author, keywords, and even scripture reference.

CCEL is especially helpful since many research topics in theology and Christian ministry require historical perspective. Using CCEL you can access sources on the historical background of a topic without having to leave your computer. If you are having trouble locating the sources you need to research a topic in its modern context, in some cases you can change the focus of your research paper to address the historical aspects of a subject instead. For example, instead of researching “The Practice of Communion in the Methodist Church,” you might change to “The Practice of Communion as Described in the Greek-Speaking Church Fathers.” (Both are impossibly large topics for a research paper.) A historical approach to the subject would allow you to do most of your research within the collection of CCEL.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) is an online library of books whose copyrights have expired in the U.S, and is similar to archive.org. Electronic versions of these books have been created and uploaded to the Gutenberg website for free download by anyone who wants to access them. The website is much like the CCEL except it offers books on a wide range of subjects, not just ones related to Christianity. In some cases a book not yet available at CCEL may be accessible at Project Gutenberg.

Purchasing Books

Sometimes books on Christian ministry and theology are relatively inexpensive when compared to books in other fields of learning. As a result it can sometimes be worth the effort to simply buy the book you need even if you are not sure that you want to own it forever. Online retailers such as www.amazon.com and www.alibris.com often offer used copies of books at less than half the cost of a new copy. If you are having trouble locating a book you need for your research, it is worth checking to see how much a used copy is. Some used books on www.amazon.com (such as the paperback version of The Shack) sell used for as little as $0.01 + $3.99 in shipping (for a total cost of $4.00). Your local bookstore (Christian or otherwise) can also order any book in print for you, and some retailers carry a selection of books on Christian ministry and theology.

An excellent resource for comparing prices on books is www.bookfinder.com. Here you can enter a title and it will return results listing the price of both new and used copies of the book, with shipping already calculated, at all the major online retailers. This will save you the time of going to each retailer’s website, one by one, to comparison shop.

Amazon.com’s “Look Inside” Feature

The bookseller www.amazon.com offers a feature that is very similar to the “Google Books” search tool described above – but Amazon’s system requires that you know the name of the book that you are looking for. In that sense Amazon’s tool is not so much about identifying sources as it is about accessing a source you already know about. That is why the Amazon search feature is included in this section even though it functions in a way that is similar to “Google Books.”

Using the same example we used in our discussion of “Google Books,” we can see how Amazon’s search feature can be helpful. Suppose a friend has told me that in his book Miracles C.S. Lewis talks about how child-like images of God can carry over into our adult thinking about him. I would like to access Lewis’s thinking on this subject, but I do not have a copy of the book readily available.

I go to www.amazon.com and search in the “Books” category for Miracles. The first search result is a paperback edition of that title. Immediately to the left of the written description of the item is an image of the book with the words “Look Inside!” at the top of the image. (Try doing the search yourself if you are having trouble visualizing this.) When I click on this image, Amazon displays some of the contents of the book. In small print in the left hand column is a small box labelled “Search inside this book.”

In that box I can enter search terms to see what is inside the book. Since I know I am looking for any thoughts that Lewis might have about childish images of God, I search the terms “girl” and “think.” The first result that comes up is Lewis’s story, from page 117, about the girl who thought of God as “a vast tapioca pudding.” When I click on that search result, Amazon takes me to an image of page 117 of the book and I can then read what Lewis says there and quote the story. As with “Google Books” I simply have to scroll through Amazon’s image of the book to the title page to find the necessary bibliographic information.

Amazon does not offer the “Look Inside” option on all books and, as with “Google Books,” it does not provide an online copy of the entire text of the book. However, when you know the book you are looking for, and you only need one or two pieces of information contained in the book, this feature can be helpful and save you a trip to the library or the book store.

Amazon has designed their searchable books in such a way that you cannot print the text in the normal way, nor can you copy and paste text into your word processor. If you want to print or to save an electronic copy, you will need to use the “print screen” key, and paste the image into a program such as Paint.net.

To see an example of how the “Look Inside” feature can be useful, you can look at the list of resources that Michael Morrison prepared for one of his classes: https://sites.google.com/view/biblestudyresources/gospels/luke. Click on the links provided there and experiment with searching inside the text that Amazon has provided.