Research Resources Available Off-Campus
Higher education exists to help students learn, and to help them find the knowledge that others have recorded (i.e., how to do research). We at GCS want to teach, but we are also interested in helping you learn to do your own research by seeking out, analyzing, and using knowledge yourself. This skill is especially important for those engaged in Christian ministry.
Christian ministry takes us out of the campus-based academic setting and into many places in the world where instructors, libraries, and other traditional sources of information are not readily available. From small towns, to inner city neighborhoods, to the mission field, and many other places throughout the world, most of our Christian ministry takes place in environments where we will not have easy access to information.
Learning to use the resources that are available where we are, including internet-based resources, is an important part of preparing for Christian ministry as well as learning to be a good student. This paper is designed to help you get started in the process of learning to do research outside the traditional, campus-based, academic environment.
There are two
basic steps to research: 1) identifying sources that have the information you
need and 2) then accessing those sources.
Step one: Identifying
a source that has information I need: If I were writing a paper on Thomas
Torrance’s understanding of “covenanted response,” I might start by looking at
one of his books, Incarnation.
Torrance mentions this concept of “covenanted response” on page 40 of that book
and there is a footnote on that page that refers the reader to another book by
Torrance called The Mediation of Christ.
By reading Incarnation and looking at
that footnote, I have identified a source (The
Mediation of Christ) that has information that may help me. That is step
Step two: Accessing that source: Assume for this
example that I do not own a copy of The
Mediation of Christ. I will need to purchase it, borrow it from a library,
or, perhaps, access some of its content online. That is step two.
one of this paper offers advice on step one, identifying sources, and section
two offers advice on step two, how to locate and access those sources.
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
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
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
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
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 (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.
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.