How to Do Library Research

This set of pages has information on how to do library research. In all cases, once you have located sources, be sure to evaluate them, using the evaluation guides.

Introduction-Biographical Research

This is a guide to the various types of biographical sources that are available in the CSU Libraries. The amount of available biographical information is directly related to an individual's prominence in his or her field and popularity with the general public. Researching a relatively unknown person requires perseverance and any information found may be minimal.

International, General and Specific Minorities (United States of America)
Literary Authors/Writers Sciences
Journalism, Politics Music


General-of interest to all researchers


Very famous people can be found in general encyclopedias. An encyclopedia article usually contains a brief summary of someone's life and major accomplishment(s).

Biographical Indexes

  • Biography and Genealogy Master Index. Detroit: Gale, 1982- . Z 5305 .U5 B57 REF Comprehensive resource for identifying biographical information. Identifies biographical articles and entries in reference sources. KEY resource for finding biographical information.
  • Biography Index. New York: Wilson, 1946- . Z 5301 .B5 REF Index Table & Recent years under "Databases." Identifies articles and books. Printed version has highly useful section at back listing biographees by profession. Online, use the Thesaurus to identify people by profession.

Books, Individual Biographies

Individual biographies (i.e. a whole book written about one person) are usually the most comprehensive biographical sources available. To find individual biographies use the online catalog.

Do the following searches:

  • Author search (last name, first name)--finds book BY the person, including autobiographies
  • Subject (initial page LC Subject) search (last name, first name)--finds books ABOUT the person or the person's writings
  • Keyword search (order of name doesn't matter)--finds books both BY and ABOUT


Author Adams, Abigail Subject Adams, Abigail Word Abigail Adams
Author Chavez, Cesar Subject Chavez, Cesar Word Cesar Chavez
Author Douglass, Frederick Subject Douglass, Frederick Word Frederick Douglass

Sometimes one search will find several sources not found by the others, so it is a good idea to try all three and eliminate duplicates. One thing to keep in mind is that the Word search will frequently bring up irrelevant titles, so look through retrieved records carefully.

Books, Collective Biographies

Some books contain biographies of more than one person, with several pages or a whole chapter devoted to each individual. These works are called collective biographies or biographical collections. There are several ways to find collective biographies; some collected works may have been retrieved when searching the library catalog for individual biographies.

Other collective biographies are found by using the library catalog Subject search using either the subject field or the professional title of the person and add "biography."


  • Subject: Presidents United States biography
  • Subject: Great Britain Kings and rulers biography
  • Subject: France Kings and rulers biography
  • Subject: Musicians biography
  • Subject: Chemists biography

Biographical Directories

Directories and "Who's Who"-type publications contain various amounts of information, but usually consist of one paragraph that lists the current address, vital statistics, jobs or positions held, and awards received. Directories are comprehensive for a specific field and list not only famous people, but also those who are less prominent. Some directories obtain their information directly from the individual and do not verify this information with other sources. Be sure to read the introductory chapter or page which explains how the information is obtained, whether the information is checked for accuracy, and the standards or reasons for inclusion.

To identify biographical directories, do a subject search in the library catalog for:

  • United States -- Biography -- Dictionaries.
  • Great Britain -- Biography -- Dictionaries.
  • [Country] -- Biography -- Dictionaries.

Also try a title search in the catalog for:

  • Who's Who
    to limit results to a more manageable number, click "limit this search" and for WHERE items is located: choose General Reference
  • Who's Who in
  • Who's Who in the

Periodical Articles

Biographical information can also be found in periodicals (journals and magazines). Articles that contain biographical information generally report on a "newsworthy" event: an important discovery, a notable achievement, an award presentation, or a death. Obituaries and news reports usually appear soon after the event. Retrospective articles tend to appear on anniversaries (10th, 25th, etc.) of important events, births or deaths.

Periodical articles are found by using an index. Look in an index that covers the profession of the person you are interested in (ask a librarian for suggestions). Look under the person's name and professional title. Sometimes information can be found by ethnic or racial group as well, but checking by profession is strongly recommended.


Newspapers may have articles about less well known as well as very famous people. A local newspaper may be a way to find a profile of someone who is considered a person of note in his or her community. However, finding these articles can be very difficult, if not downright impossible, because many newspapers are not indexed or are only indexed (and then selectively) for a few years.

Look for individuals by name in the following sources:

  • New York Times Index. September 18, 1851- . Printed Indexes, Newspaper (basement). 1851- (not recent years) available full text online.
    AI 21 .N44 REF

    The New York Times is a useful newspaper to look at because CSU has copies of it on microfilm and its index starting with its first issue. CSU now has the full text online edition, linked to just above.

  • New York Times Obituaries Index 1858-1968. New York: New York Times, 1970. Vol. 2 covers 1969-1978.
    CT 213 .N47 REF

    These two volumes index obituaries from the New York Times.

    Additional newspaper titles.

    ** Online newspaper indexes cover a limited number of years, but may be worth checking for people in the news today.

Web Sources

There is information about select people on the Web. When using your Web search engine, be sure to capitalize the first and last name of anyone for whom you seek information. Make full use of Boolean logic and add "biography" or some affiliation that might help narrow your search if your initial search finds too many records to look through easily.

Warning: Be careful when taking information from the Web. There are "parody" pages for some famous people (e.g. politicians near election time) and information found on these sources may not be accurate (which also applies to self-written pages). Try to figure out who has posted the information before taking it too seriously. (See also How to Evaluate a Web Page.)

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