“What in heck was that story about?!?”: Finding critical essays in a new resource, “The Literary Reference Center”


So you’ve just read a story for your English/literature class, and you have no idea what it’s about [or you have to write a five page paper about it, and you have no idea what to say]. What do you do?

The McNairy Library has several good databases that can provide you with essays and criticism about many works of literature.

The three that I would try first are…

1- Literary Reference Center– “This comprehensive full-text database provides a broad spectrum of information on thousands of authors and their works across literary disciplines and timeframes—to give students, professors, and researchers a foundation of literary reference works to meet their research needs.” [quote source: http://tinyurl.com/nckbxno]

2- Literature Resource Center– “Full-text articles from scholarly journals and literary magazines are combined with critical essays, work and topic overviews, full-text works, biographies, and more to provide a wealth of information on authors, their works, and literary movements.  Researchers at all levels will find the information they need, with content covering all genres and disciplines, all time periods and all parts of the world.” [quote source: http://tinyurl.com/bmxaoxj].

3- Literature Criticism Online– This database provides similar resources as the two above, but it targets juvenile and children’s literature.

These three databases can be found in the “L” section of our database list at http://www.library.millersville.edu/libguides/all-databases-title#L.

This blog post concerns the Literary Reference Center, because it is a new product to the McNairy Library.

To find it, navigate to the link for the Literary Reference Center… >
Go to the library’s main website (http://www.library.millersville.edu) >
Scroll to the bottom and click on “Articles and Databases” >
Click on “All Databases by Title” in the right hand column >
Scroll down to the “L” section>
You’ll find the link to the Literary Reference Center towards the bottom of that section.

When you put a story or book title into the search field, be sure to put quotation marks around it. That will insure that the “discovery service” [aka the “search box”, the “search engine”] will search for the title as a complete phrase rather than as a bunch of separate words.

As an example, put in good man is hard to find. That search produces 451 results, most of them about Flannery O’Connor’s story “A good man is hard to find”.

Results for "good man is hard to find" search. Notice the "Source Type" section of the limiters in the left hand column.

Notice in the left hand column that there are “limiters” [they limit the amount of results you get]. Scroll down to the “Source Types” section in the limiters and click on “Literary Criticism”. That will limit your results to essays that discuss the “meaning”, symbolism, literary constructs, language, affinities, etc., in the story.

Besides individual essays, you might also be interested in the general reception of a book or story. For instance, when the story was first published, how did people initially react to it? How do they react to it now?

To find that information, you should perform a search using the term “critical reception” [again, use the quotation marks to target records with that exact phrase]. For example, if you wanted to find out the critical reception of John Steinbeck’s work, you could do a search for “critical reception” AND Steinbeck [see image below].

"Critical reception" search

Another term that you may want to use is “critical insights”. It’s a subject term that is used and indexed in many of the library records for literature.

Also notice that when you perform a search in the Literary Reference Center, there are many different fields that you can search [see image below].

The list of searchable fields in the drop down list

Notice that there’s a field for “Authors Cultural Identity”. You can search this field for cultural identity, but as of today, August 28, 2015, there are only six (6, 5+1, 2×3, one less than seven) cultural identities indexed in this field:

1- African American
2- Asian American
3- Gay and Lesbian
4- Jewish
5- Latino or Latina
6- Native American

My guess is that in the future there will be a greater variety of “cultural identities” indexed in this database. But for now, you can use the six above.

Also notice in the list of searchable fields that you can search for “Literary Characters” and “Literary Locales” [a search using “Lancaster” in “Locales” brings up three resources, two about a misunderstood President and one about a chocolatier].

Also notice in the blue bar at the top of the page that there are additional resources under the “More” link, including a glossary. So if you don’t know what a literary term means, you can look it up in the glossary [see image below].

Resources under the "More" link, also showing entries in the glossary

To find other databases and resources for literary criticism, go to our resource guide for literature: http://guides.library.millersville.edu/literature.

If you have any questions using this database, or any other database in the library’s collection, or if you want to correct my grammar and/or spelling, or it you think that I need a haircut, feel free to contact me at nathan.pease@millersville.edu.

[Nathan Pease is an adjunct Research Librarian at the McNairy Library and Learning Forum on the campus of Millersville University. In his spare time, Mr. Pease digitizes out-of-print vinyl records and plays “European board games” such as Targi, Pandemic, Dominion, among others. He also volunteers and works part-time at LancasterHistory.Org, also know as the Lancaster County Historical Society.]

[The image at the top of this blog, “Self-Portrait in a group (José Almada Negreiros), 1925” by Pedro Ribeiro Simoes, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.]