Thomas Mann's book A Guide to Library Research Methods (1986) is entertaining and remains valid --- nay, essential --- reading in the Web era. From Chapter 3, "Systematic Browsing and Use of the Classification Scheme":
Librarians sometimes meet with resistance when they suggest that if readers want certain information they shold browse the library's bookshelves in a particular area. Evidently, some people assume --- if it occurs to them at all --- that browsing is at best a haphazard and inefficient way to do research.
Just the opposite is true. Systematically browsing the shelves is a very useful method of subject retrieval, and in some cases it is the most efficient method of all. ...
... Many collections of primary manuscripts or "raw materials" exist on an incredible array of subjects, and can be identified through the sources discussed in Chapter 10 and in the Appendix. However, such collections are more often than not poorly indexed, or not indexed at all, so researchers usually must simply browse through them. The principle is the same, though: first put yourself in a situation where the information you want is likely to exist, and then look around so that you can recognize valuable things when you see them.
One of the major themes of the present book is that a variety of techniques can be used to find information, that each of them has both advantages and disadvantages, and that no one of them can be counted on to do the entire job of in-depth research. What is required is always a mixture of approaches, so that the various trade-offs can balance each other. My observation, however, is that in this age of proliferating indexes, abstracts, catalogs, and databases, the research technique of systematic browsing tends to be overlooked by researchers who are infatuated with the flashier electronic approaches. The fact remains, however, that the vast bulk of humanity's written memory contained in books is not in the indexes and databases in the first place; and researchers who neglect systematic browsing of the texts of books are missing a vast store of material that cannot be efficiently retrieved in any other way.
Thursday, June 21, 2001 at 06:10:49 (EDT) = Datetag20010621