Order Code 97-76 C
Updated June 10, 2003
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
How to Find Information in a Library and
on the Internet
Information Management Specialist
Information Research Division
This guide to finding information in libraries and on the Internet has been prepared
for constituents who want to learn more about topics that interest them. It includes
background directories, current information, references for government, politics,
legislation, and other sources. It lists a number of Internet search engines, which can be
used at many public libraries. It also suggests guides on how to search, including one
for kids. This report will be updated as necessary.
Members of Congress receive hundreds of requests daily from constituents wanting
to know about a wide variety of subjects. Many inquiries relate to current laws or topics
of shared public and congressional interest and concern. Others are the types of reference
or research questions that libraries handle routinely.
The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress helps congressional
offices respond to their constituents, but is limited to in both the time and effort it can
spend in answering these requests. Its first duty is to provide information to Congress and
to help Congress meet its legislative responsibilities. To help those wishing to find more
information, ideas on using local libraries and the Internet are presented in this report.
How to Find Information in a Local Library
Libraries today serve as clearinghouses for practical information as much as
collections of learning, research, and bestsellers. Librarians can help one learn how a
certain holiday began, which government agency to contact to lodge a consumer
complaint with, which toaster to buy, and much more.
Most areas have a city or county public library to help with reference and research.
College and university libraries often provide some public access to their collections.
Even a small library has resources that, if used creatively, can often answer a question or
at least suggest a source where information can be found.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Every library has a reference collection of books for use in the library, including
encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, magazine indexes, compilations of statistics,
biographical directories, and so on. They can provide a great deal of information quickly.
Many libraries have online searching, usually for a fee, and CD-ROMs for readers to use
themselves. Many provide access to the Internet and the World Wide Web for their users.
This guide gives examples of some general reference works that many libraries have
that will help find the needed information. Libraries have many more sources, both
general and subject-oriented. Some works listed here may be available only at larger
public or research libraries, or at libraries which are depositories for U.S. government
publications and which by law must be open to the public for their depository collections.
How to Find Information on the Internet
There are many Internet search engines, some of which cover several other search
engines; these are labeled “meta” on the list below. Because of the dynamic nature of the
Internet, sources can change, appear, or disappear without warning. Not everything that
appears on the Web is true, and sites where the author is clearly identified and his
qualifications given are considered more reliable by librarians who judge Web sites.
All the Web
A descriptive list of Internet search engines is hotlinked to each search engine. The
State University of New York’s University at Albany libraries produced it.
The Beaufort Library at the University of South Carolina created a tutorial, Bare
Bones 101, which includes basic search tips, search strategies, and evaluating Web pages.
[http://www.sc.edu/beaufort/library/bones.html] and [http://www.aarp.org/learninternet/]
Finding Information on the Internet, a tutorial from the University of California,
Berkeley, recommends a five-step search strategy.
NoodleQuest calls itself the “search strategy wizard,” where you can fill out an
online form about the details of your search and get an e-mail reply.
PowerReporting, a resource for journalists, presents a tutorial on Web search strategy
and syntax that has some helpful tips.
KidsClick!, a World of Searching, uses simple terms and brightly-colored examples
to explain how to search the Web, which adults and children can enjoy and profit from.
AARP’s tutorial for the beginner covers the very basics: Web browsers, menus,
toolbars, Web addresses, getting around on Web pages, bookmarks, printing, and help for
common problems. It features simple instructions, illustrations, definitions, and a
discussion forum (free registration required for the forum).
General Background Information
Among the most useful reference works are encyclopedias, which provide brief
information on a great many topics. Many libraries have several encyclopedias, such as
the World Book Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Americana, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Some also have online encyclopedias available for searching. Almanacs such as the
World Almanac, Time Almanac, and others provide in a compact form brief facts on a
great many topics. They have historical information, statistics, lists of winning teams,
election results, Oscar winners, Nobel prizes, etc.
One of the best places to find statistics of every kind about the United States is the
Statistical Abstract, published each year by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO)
and available in nearly every library. Other useful government publications are the free,
quarterly Consumer Information Catalog, the World Factbook, the annual Budget of the
United States Government, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook, among many, many
Biographical information, whether about people living now or historical figures, is
located in many places. In addition to what the encyclopedias can provide, Webster’s
Biographical Dictionary and the Dictionary of American Biography are useful. For
current newsmakers, one can start with Current Biography, Who’s Who in America, or
Biography Index. Some of these sources are also available online.
Businesses and corporations are listed in Moody’s Industrial Manual, Hoover’s
Handbook of American Business, Standard & Poor’s Register of Corporations, Directors,
and Executives, Ward’s Business Directory of U.S. Private and Public Companies, and
Thomas Register of American Manufacturers. Many specialized directories list
businesses by location or by industry.
The latest information on topics of current interest is generally in newspapers and
magazines. By using magazine indexes, one can find articles on a topic or by a particular
author. Many libraries provide access to subscription indexes like ProQuest, and there
are also magazine articles available on CD-ROM.
A number of U.S. newspapers publish indexes, and the one most often used is the
New York Times Index. A weekly news summary, Facts on File, can be used to find the
date of an event and a brief summary. A number of newspapers have at least current
issues available online.
Librarians’ Index to the Internet includes radio and other media.
Newspapers on Web has more than 4,000 U.S. newspapers, plus international and college
OnlineNewspapers.com is “A gateway to 10,000 online newspapers from around the world.”
There are thousands of national associations in the United States, ranging from very
small to very large, and they can often provide information on a topic or point out other
sources that may be contacted. Many groups have Web pages on the Internet, and often
their reports are located there. A printed and CD-ROM guide to these organizations is the
yearly Encyclopedia of Associations, which lists more than 22,000 groups.
Government, Politics, and Legislation
Executive Branch. The federal government is large and complicated, and it has
a bewildering number of agencies and bureaus. The United States Government Manual
can help people discover which agency to contact for information, as it lists all the
government departments and agencies and explains what they do. Federal agencies all
have Web sites as well. Some Web sites for the federal government are as follows:
This portal for the U.S. government brings together a vast array of government information
in a single site. Users can access information by subject or by agency through links to executive,
legislative, and judicial Web sites. It aims to help citizens, businesses, state, local, and tribal
government employees, and U.S. territories.
FirstGov for Kids
“This site was developed and is maintained by the Federal Consumer Information Center.
It provides links to federal kids’ sites along with some of the best kids’ sites from other
organizations, all grouped by subject.”
FedStats is a gateway to federal government statistics from over 100 U.S. federal agencies.
Statistical information can be accessed by agency and by topic.
This Government Printing Office site links users to about 175,000 individual, full-text
government publications at no charge. A “site contents” link gives an alphabetical list of the
major publications and databases available at the site.
Google Search: Unclesam
Search U.S. government sites with Google.
Federal government agencies with benefit programs of all kinds.
Created by a federal-state partnership, this site aims to help those who want a new job, to
hire new employees, or to get ahead in their career by listing jobs, résumés, and career
FirstGov for Science. “Science.gov is a gateway to authoritative selected science
information provided by U.S. government agencies, including research and development
The Washington Information Directory, published yearly, tells which government
agencies, congressional committees, and private groups in Washington, D.C., are
interested in particular topics. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance lists the
government programs that give money to groups or (rarely) to individuals for particular
purposes and explains how to apply. It is available on the Web at [http://www.cfda.gov].
Legislative Branch. The Congressional Directory is the official directory of
Congress, with lists of Members and committees, biographical information on Members,
statistics, and so on. The most current information is on these Web sites:
House of Representatives
Congress for Kids
Uncle Sam takes kids on a tour of the federal government at this site sponsored by the
Dirksen Congressional Center.
Two privately-published books are also good sources on Members of Congress:
Almanac of American Politics (Washington, National Journal) by Michael Barone and
Richard E. Cohen, and Politics in America, published by CQ Press. All are published
every two years.
The Congressional Record is the official record of congressional activity. Another
publication that reports on the activities of Congress is Congressional Quarterly’s CQ
Weekly. The Weekly is cumulated into a yearly Almanac.
LexisNexis Academic & Library Solutions (formerly Congressional Information
Service, Inc.), collects congressional publications and laws and issues them on microfiche
along with the printed CIS Index/Abstracts, which provides a subject approach to
publications (reports, hearings, documents) of Congress.
Laws passed by Congress are published in the United States Statutes at Large, and
the permanent general laws are later collected and codified into the United States Code
(USC). Regulations are first published in the Federal Register (FR) and are later codified
into the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). All are available online as well.
This site gives the full text of proposed regulations and provides for citizen comment on
the proposed regulations.
An extremely useful source for bills and laws is THOMAS [http://thomas.loc.gov],
prepared by the Library of Congress with data from the House and Senate. It has public
laws and bill summaries since 1973, House and Senate roll call votes for the past several
years, the Congressional Record text and index since 1994, bills full text since 1989,
summaries of legislation since 1973, links to committee Web sites, and other information.
State Governments. Most states issue a “blue book” listing officers of the state
government, members of the legislature, state boards and commissions, and so on. A
source giving brief information for all the states is the annual Book of the States by the
Council of State Governments. One of its supplements, Directory III, Administrative
Officials, lists all the state departments of health, labor, public land, and so on. Many state
governments have extensive Web sites that include directory, program, and statistical
information. Three sites that link to the various state sites are listed.
State and Local Government on the Net
Books and Magazines
One finds out what books and magazines are in a library through its catalog,
whether a card catalog or microfiche, online, or other version. Many libraries have access
to catalogs of other libraries in their state or region. Online access to the Library of
Congress catalogs is at [http://catalog.loc.gov/], and many other library catalogs are on the
There are many guides to help one find out about books in general. Books in Print
(BIP) is a listing of books currently on sale and available from U.S. publishers and
bookstores. BIP lists books by author and title; its companion, Subject Guide to Books in
Print, lists them by subject. Online booksellers make it easy to find if titles are currently