Social Science: Research Guides to Pathfinders

Each of the disciplines within social sciences has its own approach to research. As such, the subject guides and other research materials will each be slightly different depending on the area of emphasis.


Approaches to Inquiry and Research

Each discipline has its own approach to inquiry and research.

For instance, history involves the study of events, people, and ideas from the past. Lincove (57, 2014) notes that “historians study the past using evidence to discover and interpret what happened, why it happened, and how it might impact future events.” These activities not only help people learn about the past, but may also guide our future. The study of history is closely tied to humanities, the social sciences, as well as science and technology.

According to Lincove (2014), historians often describe their work in terms of place, time, and theme such as religious life in early modern Britain. They may also focus on a group of people such as the Jews of New York. They may also take interdisciplinary approaches such as surgical techniques of the American Civil War.

try itTry It!
Browse a few of the following book previews focusing on history research. Compare their approaches. Think about how these approaches relate to the information inquiry models you've used.
Benjamin, Jules R. (2013). A Student’s Guide to History. Bedford/St. Martin’s
Bombaro, Christine (2012). Finding History: Research Methods and Resources for Students and Scholars. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=7gcX05mW5WkC
Brundage, Anthony (2013). Going to Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=18PUL60-UuwC
Gilderhus, Mark T. (2006). History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction.
Harvey, Karen (2009). History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources. Routledge. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=xny_K1Id7vkC
Howell, Martha & Prevenier, Walter (2001). From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods. Cornell University Press. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=wSqgwOZPjJ4C
Jordanova, Ludmilla (2015). History in Practice. Bloomsbury.
McDowell, W.H. (2013). Historical Research: A Guide for Writers of Dissertations, Theses, Articles, and Books. Routledge. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=ZqYuAgAAQBAJ
Presnell, Jenny L. (2013). The Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students. Oxford University Press.
Storey, William Kelleher (2013). Writing History: A Guide for Students. Oxford University Press.
Tosh, John (2013). The Pursuit of History. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=PSmBAAAAQBAJ
Williams, Robert C. (2011). The Historian’s Toolbox: A Student’s Guide to the Theory and Craft of History. M.E. Sharpe. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=YD52HrfEZgAC

Although this course focuses on social science information, keep in mind that many areas cross disciplines.

Brown, Christine D. (2002). Straddling the humanities and social sciences: The research process of music scholars. Library & Information Science Research, 24(1), 73-94.

Knowing how students and scholars conduct research is important when assisting these library users.

Head, Alison J. (2008). Information literacy from the trenches: how do humanities and social science majors conduct academic research? College & Research Libraries, 69(5), 427-445.

In addition to understanding the research process, it's also necessary to understand who scholarly literature is published a cited.

try itTry It!
Explore Scholarly Literature in the Arts and Humanities. Think about how each type of literature is produced and shared. What are the implications for librarians assisting users?

Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

As you can see, working with social sciences information seekers is a balancing act. Librarians must understand a user's need for independence and the opportunity for exploration. At the same time, they must also help the social studies explorer by facilitating access to useful information sources.

It's important that librarians do their own research to discover and understand the needs of information seekers in social studies. This research goes beyond counting citations and logging questions.

Subject Guides by Discipline

The resources below are organized by discipline. In some cases, books are recommended that include lists of information sources. Explore some of the following subject guides from LibGuides. These aren't the best or the worst. Instead, they're representative of recent guides. To do your own search, go to http://libguides.com/community.phpGeneral Social Science


Anthropology and Archaeology



Area, Cultural, Ethnic, and Gender/Sexuality Studies

For guides related to Western European Studies, go to ACRL's Guide Page.

try itTry It!
Skim a Sample Chapter from Ye, Yushan (2014). The ALA Guide to Researching Modern China. ALA Editions. Notice the table of contents and how readers are introduced to the topic. Think about how you could incorporate these ideas into a research guide based on your area of interest.

Communication Studies

For communication studies resources, go to ACRL's Resources for Communication Studies Librarians wiki page.



For education resources, go to ACRL's Resources for Education Librarians wiki page.





Political science, Law, and Military


Read Healey, Paul D. (2014). Web Extra. Legal Reference for Librarians: How and Where to Find the Answers. ALA Editions.



For a core list of psychology resources, go to ACRL's Resources for Psychology Librarians wiki page.

Sociology and Demography

try itTry It!
Choose one of the disciplines above and browse the suggested LibGuides. Share your three favorites including the name and URL.

Subject Guides by Library Type

Below are LibGuides from the general area of social sciences. These aren't the best or the worst. Instead, they're representative of recent guides. To do your own search, go to http://libguides.com/community.php and select the library type of your choice.

Academic Library

Special Library: History

Special Library: Law and Criminology

Special Library: Military

Special Library: Museum

Special Library: Organizations

try itTry It!
In many cases, academic librarians are responsible for many areas within the sciences. In other cases, they focus on a particular area such as law or history. Examine a few of the examples above. Notice the names associated with the LibGuides.

Pathfinders in the Real World

As you begin exploring resources associated with social sciences, keep in mind that each sub-discipline has its own unique problems and issues when it comes to locating and using information sources. It can be useful to explore the work of peer librarians for ideas.

Metcalf, Susan (2013). Good stewards in trying times: benchmarking peer collections of sociology reference sources using LibGuides. The Reference Librarian, 54(2), 134-142.


Darity, William (Ed). (2008). International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2nd Edition. Macmillan Reference.

Herron, Nancy L. (Ed.) (2002). The Social Sciences: A Cross-Disciplinary Guide to Selected Sources. 3rd Edition.

Rudasill, Lynne M. & Ortiz, Maria Elena Dorta-Duque (2013). IFLA Publications, Volume 158 Social Sciences Libraries in Action. Walter de Greyter. Available through IUPUI's ebooks through ebrary.

Tze-Chung, Li (2000). Social Sciences Reference Sources: A Practical Guide. Greenwood Press. Available through IUPUI's ebooks through ebrary.

Ye, Yushan (2014). The ALA Guide to Researching Modern China. ALA Editions.

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