Library Research Guide : Literature




Literary criticism involves the discussion, analysis and appraisal of a literary work –whether a poem, play, novel, short story or essay.





This guide offers suggestions for organizing your research and contains selected subject specific resources available at Okanagan College Library and via the internet. It is intended to provide a starting point for literary criticism, sufficient for basic research needs.


For more extensive guidance, contact your Library Reference Desk. 



Note: Most online resources listed in this guide are licensed for use by OC students and faculty, and are accessible from campus labs, offices and at Library Information Commons. Off-campus access is possible, provided you have a valid Okanagan College ID number (student or employee) or Library card number and pin.


Log onto the OC Library home page  []  as your critical point of research access, anywhere, anytime !



In this guide:   



Other resources:


Step 1. Getting Started!  Define your Topic





If your topic is “ Is Shakespeare’s portrayal of Othello racist or not?


You might come up with the following keywords for your searches:


Shakespeare  and  Othello  and  race




racism; colour & racial difference; racial prejudice(s), discrimination; race relations

portrayal, depiction, treatment; character, disposition

Shakespearean/Elizabethan  tragedy/drama/plays/stage


If you have trouble thinking of synonyms, check a dictionary or encyclopedia (general or on literature) to find new terminology.






Using the example above,

                                                Othello character




The topic above could be broadened by substituting keywords like:

Shakespeare - political & social views - society England 16th century, 17th century  Shakespeare drama - social aspects, politics



Step 2: Begin your Research

Looking in Reference Sources


Reference Sources include dictionaries, encyclopedias,  handbooks and manuals. They are invaluable research tools for helping you define your topic as well as for finding biographical information  and for bibliographies  and even full-text of, critiques of authors’ works.


They are often shelved in the Reference Section of any library.  OC Library also subscribes to online reference sources   that can be searched via the internet.





This will provide you with an overview and definition of your topic and often bibliographies of further resources to check.


To find them, do a Subject Browse  search on the Library Catalogue entering words like literature and dictionaries






Provides access to key Oxford dictionaries and reference works for literary research.

Click on Search within a subject  and select Literature

Then search or browse within the key literary titles listed e.g. Concise Oxford Companion series to national literatures, Dictionary of Literary Terms and Dictionary of Writers & their Works




back to step2



On the Library Catalogue, look for biography  as you search your author’s name or more generally under national literatures, genres or time periods





A comprehensive multi-volume biographical dictionary of individuals who have contributed to American, British, Commonwealth and Modern European literature. Volumes are organized by topic, period and/or genre. A cumulative index appears at the end of each volume. Watch at the end of each entry for the useful  lists of references you can follow-up.  



 Tip! Use Gale Literary Index publicly available on the internet  to quickly identify which DLB volume covers your author






back to step2








 Tip! Search the publicly available Gale Literary Index via the internet. It is the master index to help you identify where your author’s works may be covered in Gale’s major literary reference sets (see below for some key titles).

These might be in print on library Reference shelves and/or online in Gale Literary Databases.




With each print set on the Reference shelves, you can also look up your author/title in annual or cumulative index volumes


By period:

Literary Criticism: from 1400 to 1800 (LC), Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism (NCLC), Twentieth Century Literary Criticism (TCLC), or Contemporary Literary Criticism (CLC).

By Genre:

Drama Criticism (DC), Poetry Criticism (PC), Short Story Criticism (SSC)

By Author:

Shakespearean Criticism


back to step2




Use the Library Catalogue to find a bibliography, by entering a Subject Browse search, using words like American Literature  or the  author’s name  and looking for the sub-heading, bibliographies

back to step2







Gale Literary Index  [internet]
An index of the authors and works covered in Gale's literary reference book series which OC Libraries hold variously in print on their Reference Shelves or as online databases . Search by author or title.

back to step2



Step 3. Find Books


Use, our Library Catalogue, to find books or audiovisual materials in Okanagan College Library about your literary topic.


To find the works written by literary writers 



 Tip! Remember to type the last/family name first




To find critical material on an author  of a literary work



Tip! To get readily to the different aspects of your author’s work, use Subject Browse . (A Librarian can help you think of the best subject words )





For more general discussions of literary genres, periods or themes




 Tip! Check the location and status of any useful item, as well as noting it’s call number, author and title. You can request  items from other OC campus libraries, right where you are in the catalogue!





Browsing the Library Shelves


Call Numbers are used to organize items on the Library shelves by subject. Literature and literary criticism are shelved in the P section.


Useful call numbers to browse are:


PN                              General History of Literature by Period & Genre

PR                              English Literature

PR 8309-9680      International Literature in English

PS                              American Literature

PS 8001-8599        Canadian Literature

PT                               European Literature




When browsing, remember that at each call number section




§                     A good investigator follows up leads! Be sure to check the bibliography or chapter references of any book for other useful citations

§                     Be flexible! If you find little or no critical material on a particular author’s work, consider looking at criticism of their other work, or their style or technique or themes. Then make connections to the work you are examining.




Step 4. Find Articles


Online Article Indexes 


Using an index or abstract in literature, you can find citations for literary criticism articles published in scholarly (“academic” or “peer-reviewed”) journals, popular magazines and newspapers.

Complete articles (full-text) are often included, when you look up online indexes and databases !


Most online article databases listed below are licensed for use by OC students and faculty, and are widely accessible on campus and at Library Information Commons. Access off-campus is possible, provided you have a valid Okanagan College student number or Library card number and pin.


Click the links below or from the Find Articles link on the Library page.



 Tip! You can be even more specific as the number of articles in these databases is huge! Remember those ways to narrow your search.





Best Bets !



Gale Literary Databases

Subject coverage: Literary Criticism & Biographies

Description: Full-text biography and criticism of more than 120,000 authors. Includes such titles as Contemporary Authors  and Contemporary Literary Criticism


MLA International Bibliography

Subject coverage: Language & Literature; Linguistics; Folklore

Description: Citations and abstracts for more than 4,400 scholarly journals, books, book chapters and dissertations. Follow links to find full-text in online journal collections such as JSTOR.


Humanities Index

Citations for 400 popular and scholarly journals covering humanities topics, including literature and literary criticism. Includes access to full-text articles


Academic Search Premier

A large multidisciplinary index including full-text from literary journals



For researching more articles on Canadian literature,

refer to the Library’s  Canadian Literature : Library Research Guide  (under construction)


For more Book Reviews, select under   General / All Subjects

Book Review Index Plus

A comprehensive listing of book reviews including millions of citations and 630,000 full text reviews published in newspapers, popular and academic journals since 1965. Including reviews of literary and critical works.



 Tip!  If no full-text is immediately available in the database you are searching, click on Where can I get this article?

A search will be automatically performed  across all OC Library subscribed databases and the Library Catalogue to find full-text in either online or print versions.





If none is found, you will be prompted to consider inter-library loan from other libraries, should you have patron privileges & sufficient time.




Step 5. Find e-Journals


OC Library subscribes to access full-text of important scholarly journals via the internet. e-Journals in the fields of arts, humanities and literature can be searched or browsed via such archive databases as: [add hyperlinks]


§         JSTOR

§         Project Muse

§         Oxford University Press Journals




To find e-Journals on a literary subject




If you already know a particular journal title or a specific article citation from it




 Tip! Use these online journal collections after you have searched online indexing & abstracting databases for articles.



For example, use MLA International Bibliography (found on the OC Library webpage under Find Articles) to search for your topic. You can do a more refined search than in the e-journal archives like JSTOR. As you choose relevant citations to journal articles, click on where can I get this article?   The system will bring up the full-text of articles if they are held in JSTOR, Project Muse or Oxford University Press Journals archives.





Step 6. Find Web Resources


 Tip! Don’t believe everything you read!



There is a growing amount of reliable, scholarly information available on the publicly accessible Web. There is also a growing amount of information of dubious quality. So it is a good idea to exercise caution and judgment when using the open Web, as it is when referring to any source of information.

Evaluate web sources very carefully for their accuracy, authority and currency.


More on evaluation criteria to help you:    


University of California Berkeley Library  “Evaluating Web Pages:  Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask”




Use our  Web Search  from the OC Library webpage Research links menu to locate credible materials on the internet using search engines and subject directories, and with focus on sites produced or evaluated by scholars and librarians.



Selected Web Resources for Literary Research & Criticism


Meta Sites :


Internet Public Library: Literary Criticism Collection     

Critical and biographical websites about authors and their works that can be browsed by author, by title, or by nationality and literary period


Literary Resources on the Net

Comprehensive collection of links to sites covering English & American literature (Compiled by Jack Lynch of Rutgers University)


Voice of the Shuttle (Literature in English)

English literature section of a mega-gateway organized by period, nation, subculture, and genre

(University of California, Santa Barbara)



Contemporary/World Literature :


Contemporary Postcolonial & Postimperial Literature in English

Provides information about contemporary literature and authors in countries that were formerly colonies of Great Britain  (Project  of University Scholars Programme of the National University of Singapore)




American Literature :


PAL: Perspectives in American Literature: a Research and Reference Guide

Outlines & bibliographies of authors, themes and literary movements in the U.S. from colonial days to the present (California State University, Stanislaus)



Shakespeare :


Mr William Shakespeare and the Internet         

An award-winning scholarly web site with annotated links to Shakespeare resources (Palomar College, California)






Step 7. Evaluate what you Find



Consider the materials you have located.




More on evaluating what you find  


Purdue University Online Writing Lab  "Evaluating sources of information"  [internet]




Now write your paper.


If you need any help, here is a selection of resources on writing about literature


Thomson Gale: “How to write a term paper” [internet]

Uses example of studying, researching criticism and writing term paper about a novel


University of Victoria Hypertext Writer’s Guide  [internet]

Useful guide covering all the basic components of writing and studying literature, and includes a glossary of literary terms



Search on OC Library Catalogue   for such titles as :


McMahan, Elizabeth        Literature and the writing process               7th ed     Prentice Hall, 2004          


Barnet, Sylvan                   A short guide to writing about literature      9th ed     Longman, 2002  / 2004   


Roberts, Edgar V.             Writing about literature                                    10th ed   Prentice Hall, 2002          


[Located on the Library shelves in section  PE 1479 .C7 ]







Step 8. Cite your Sources


Respect, not dis-respect! Acknowledge and cite!


Plagiarism is using other people's ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information. To avoid plagiarism, follow a few simple rules . . .


Cite your sources using the style recommended in your subject discipline or approved by your faculty. The following selected Citation Guides are to help you:











Prepared by: Michelle Ward & Anne Cossentine, Librarians            Location: Penticton  


Phone: (250) 492-4305   Local 3233


Last updated: April 2006