Monday, August 31, 2009

New Database: LitFinder

By way of a new Boston Region (BRLS) contract, Sawyer Library is happy to add several new databases. One that will come in handy for literature researchers is LitFinder, a Gale InfoTrac database that indexes and reproduces literary "primary sources." That is, LitFinder is a database that provides "access to more than 135,000 full-text poems, stories, plays and more."

Although we have many databases that provide descriptive and critical materials about works of literature--see, for example, the many listed on our Literature, Arts and Humanities database list--this is the first one that actually gives you the literary works themselves.

Let's say I'd like to find a few of the poems that Emily Dickinson wrote about death and dying. I might go to LitFinder and do a simple search for Emily Dickinson and Death in the search box.

The initial results page will list eight "Topic & Work Overviews." These are short descriptive and critical entries. They give some background on a particular poem and may quote a few lines from a major literary scholar about what the poem is about or why it works or doesn't. At the bottom of one of these Work Overview pages, you will often link to a reproduction of the poem itself.

But if it's the poetry you want. Look at the tabs above the initial results and click, instead, on the one for "Primary Sources & Literary Works." Here you will find citations (and, in most cases full-text) to many of Dickinson's works that mention death. (And there are lots!)

The text will be presented in most cases. And it you look at the top of the entry, there is even a an icon and link for a ReadSpeaker function

that will read aloud (albeit in a slightly robotic voice) the text of the work.

Regarding the availability of full-text sources: Keep in mind that works in the "public domain" (that is, where copyright has expired) are more likely to be reproduced in LitFinder than contemporary works. For more modern writers, you may find, at best, only a citation to a story or poem in an anthology. You would then have to check our online catalog to see if we actually own the book being referred to. If I search, for example, for Jhumpa Lahiri, I get only a short biographical note and absolutely no citations or reproductions to her works. However, if I want Susan Glaspell's 1917 short story, "A Jury of Her Peers," I will find it reproduced here.

So, although this database can be very useful in finding works from authors from the World War I period or earlier, it will not be particularly useful for late 20th or early 21st century authors.

If you'd like more information on this database, Gale has created a Search Tips Word Document, as well as a Guided Tour in PowerPoint Slides.

[FIND LitFinder on our "Databases by Subject" List on the second column of our "Literature, Arts and Humanities" list.]

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