Why can’t I find Canadian content?

The most common reason for not being able to find Canadian content on your topic is that it doesn’t exist.  Think about it from a math perspective: the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada represents 95 university-level, degree-offering institutions; the Association of American Colleges and Universities, meanwhile, includes 1200 institutions.  Canada’s population of 34 million people simply cannot produce the same amount of research as the 310 million people in the United States, either.  And there’s fewer of us to study, too!

That said, there are a few ways to make sure that you haven’t missed any Canadian research on your topic:

1. Choose Canadian-focussed resources

  • Statistics:
    • Use the Statistics Canada website for finding Canadian statistics, as well as economic information (through CANSIM).  If StatsCan tries to charge you for the data you want, try using ESTAT instead (you just have to agree that you’re using their content for academic purposes).
  • Other Government Documents: the Federal Government is trying to improve its websites to make them more user friendly.  Stats Can is already easier to use, in my opinion.  Weldon Library has a great Government Information Resource Guide, so make sure to check it out.  Queen’s University also has a good site – I took a course from the data librarian responsible for this website.
  • Newspapers: Western subscribes to a number of Canadian newspapers, some of which contain historical runs.  You have access to Globe and Mail content dating back to 1844, for example.
  • Databases (find these through the Databasessection on the Western Libraries’ website).
    • CPI.Q (Canadian Periodicals) – includes business, culture, history.  Periodicals include Globe & Mail, Macleans.
    • CBCA Reference – scholarly coverage of social sciences, sciences, and professions; popular coverage of health, children/youth, arts and culture, opinion, public policy, etc.
    • CBCA Business
    • CBCA Education
    • CBCA Current Events – politics, business, the arts, sports (including newspapers, news magazines, television and radio transcripts).
    • Canadian Electronic Library – Public Policy (plug-in needed for this database to work)
    • Canadian Nursing Index
    • Dictionary of Canadian Biography
    • Early Canadia Online – primary sources!
    • America History and Life – for history students
    • Toronto Stock Exchange Database
    • Pub Med Central Canada a free digital archive of research from the life and health sciences (this is a new service, so let me know if you like it!)

2. Search for “Canada” as geography in databases

In some databases (definitely not all), “geography” or “location” is listed as a way to refine your searching, similar to searching for a specific author or title.  This isn’t a perfect system, mind you, but at least it’s an option from the ones listed above.

One example database that springs to mind is PsycINFO, the psychology database.  You’ll see “location” near the bottom of the screen in my screenshot below.  Clicking “Look up Locations” brings up a list of countries, where you can choose Canada.


Now, this method isn’t fool-proof: often choosing “location” or “geography” actually searches the authors’ institutions (i.e. if the researchers work at UWO), but this might be helpful for you.

3. Use “Canada” (or Ontario or whatever is appropriate) as a Keyword

Okay, I agree that this is a fairly obvious suggestion.  But unfortunately this is one of the more common ways to find Canadian content.   So, just go ahead and do your regular search and just add “Canada” as another word.

In general, most Canadian researchers use American data to supplement any missing Canadian content.  While not all American research can be directly applied to the Canadian context, their similar geography and societal structure is often “enough” to make a point.  When it comes to comparing governments, though, consider looking at English (British) or Australian research, since they have a similar system to ours.

Association of American Colleges and Universities

Association of American Colleges and Universities

How do you find print journal articles?

Note: Our new search engine Summon does not search our print journal collection.  While this might seem convenient, it does mean that you are missing out on a considerable amount of useful content.  Make sure to supplement your Summon research with a traditional database (where applicalbe) to make sure you have well-rounded results.

Sometimes you’ll come across a journal article that is only available in print, and not online.  (Try following the steps in the full-text journal articles blog post to see if your research is available online or in print).  This happens when something was published before the internet was invented (really).

The catalogue record for print journals will look like one of the following examples:

1. This journal (College and Research Libraries News) is only available in print at Western.  How you know is that there is no “click here for online access” link included at the top of the page:

2. Let’s say we’re looking for an article from the Journal of Nutrition Education and it was published in 1995.  You’ll notice from the catalogue record that this journal is available online through ProQuest, Scholars Portal, and EbscoHost, but not before 1997.

Underneath the database links, the record lists the library locations that carry this journal in print.  The first example also did this.  In our Journal of Nutrition Education example, you’ll see that Brescia (BRES), Education (EDU), the ARCC or Archives (ARCC), and Taylor (TAY) carry this journal in print, although not always for the same length of time. Note: if you see a library that you’re not familiar with – i.e. “ARCC” – click on the name of the library for more information.

If our made-up journal article was published in 1995, which library do we need to visit to find it in print?  Look at the dates underneath each library to find this information: it looks like Brescia is the only library that subscribed to this journal in 1995.

Your next step is to write down the call number of the journal above the name of the library you need to visit (in this case QP141.A1J86n). Make sure to also write down the volume, issue, and page number that your article is found in.  The author’s name and the title aren’t a bad idea, either.

When you have this information, head off to the library (although, with the Journal of Nutrition Education, you might already be in Brescia) – you will need to photocopy your article (sorry!!!).  Each library has a periodicals section where you can find print journals, which will be organized by call number.

Usually, entire volumes (i.e. every issue that comes in for a year) will be bound together so they look like a big book.  While I don’t have a picture of Brescia’s periodicals section, Google images produced a good example of what bound journals look like:

This is why it is important to have the volume, issue, and page number of your article: within each of these “book” looking things will include multiple issues of a journal, where sometimes page numbers start over again.  For example: imagine we put a whole bunch of issues of Macleans magazine together in a bound volume like you see above – it would be important to know which year, month and page number you’re looking for so you don’t have to flip through every “book.”

Periodicals cannot be signed out of the library, so it’s up to you what you do next.  You can definitely photocopy your article, or you can read in the library for as long as you like.

Good luck on your print journal adventures!

Choosing a Database (Nutrition)

Updated Summer, 2011:

Foods and Nutrition is a very interdisciplinary subject, which makes choosing a database that much more difficult.  Luckily, Western Libraries and Brescia introduced a new product called Summon over the summer of 2011 that can act as an easy starting place for interdisciplinary programs.  I recommend starting your search in Summon: you should be able to get a good foundation of articles using this product, so that choosing a database becomes your “step two.”

After consulting Summon, it’s important to review what research you already have.  Then you can move on to making a list of what information you still need (i.e. what questions do you still have to answer? What is it that you’re looking for?)  After that, you’ll need to choose a database based on the research you still need to find.  Here are some options for you:


Some of your courses are quite science-heavy (i.e. Food Science, Clinical Nutrition), so the following databases will be suitable for sciencey research needs:

  • PubMed (current research in medicine, nursing and health care)
  • Web of Knowledge (huge, broad science database)
  • Scopus (chemistry, math, physics, life sciences, health sciences)
  • IBIDS (stuff on dietary supplements, vitamins and botanicals here)
  • CINAHL (health sciences and medicine)

Social Science

A lot of your assignments will have a more social science angle (i.e. you might have to look at people’s motivations or behaviour), especially in classes like community nutrition.  For these types of research questions, you can try the following:

  • Web of Knowledge (again, huge broad database with lots of social science information, too)
  • Scopus (also good for social science)
  • ProQuest Research Library (another super huge database – has information on almost everything)

Other Databases

  • ERIC (for education information, if you’re doing a project on community nutrition)
  • PsycINFO (for psychology information, like if you need motivation or behaviour information)

How do I use subject headings?

A note: Using subject headings may seem complicated in the beginning, but they do help to save you time in the long run.  They are especially helpful when you are researching a topic over a longer period of time.  See this blog’s previous post  “What is a subject heading” for more information, or visit the Beryl Ivey Library for assistance at any time. Please note that not all databases categorize their articles with subject headings, though, so it’s important to also know how to use keywords to research.

To research using subject headings, first you need to look them up using a database’s “thesaurus”.  Here’s how you do this for journal articles:

  1. Make sure you understand your topic. Write down some keywords and the different concepts your topic covers.
  2. Log into a database that would cover your topic (i.e. if my topic is “psychology”, the database PsycINFO is a good choice). If you don’t know which database to choose, check the Program Guide pages on Western Libraries’ website.
  3. Look for a link that says “Thesaurus” or “Descriptors” or “Subject Headings.”  This will bring you to the list of standardized subject headings for that particular database.  [In PubMed, it’s called “MeSH Database” (Medical Subject Headings Database)].
  4. Start searching the thesaurus for the list of subject headings on your topic.  Make sure to explore all angles of your topic.
  5. Make a list of the appropriate subject headings you can use to search.  In some cases, there may be more than one subject heading that would work (i.e. “women” and “female” may both be subject headings.  Another example could be “teaching” and “instruction”).

Once you have your list of subject headings, you can use these to search for articles within that database.  I’ve included a screenshot of PsycINFO below: here, you can see that they allow you to select subject headings as a way to search.  To search using PsycINFO’s subject headings, I just change the drop down menu and enter the list of subject headings. You can also select the link for “Look up Subjects” to see if it an official subject heading that this database uses. This can be helpful when looking for additional synonyms for your topic.


While most databases come up with their own list of subject headings, some use standardized systems.  Our library catalogue, for example, uses the Library of Congress system.  This means that the same subject headings in our Shared Catalogue would work in other university library catalogues that use LC.  PubMed, meanwhile, uses a system called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) which can be found in a number of other medical databases as well, such as Medline.

A warning: if you’re searching for articles using Summon, you may see the limits of “Subject Terms” along the left of your results page.  These may help to limit your search, but they are not standardized terms like the ones discussed above.  Since Summon works like Google, with computers in charge of creating the list of resources, subject heading searches won’t work.

What is a subject heading? Why should I care?

Librarians love organizing things.  A lot. One product of this love is subject headings.  In more technical terms, these are standardized words assigned to a concept.

Using subject headings is a more advanced way to research as they help to reduce the amount of “garbage,” or irrelevant results, that come up.  This is because subject headings are assigned to an article or a book by a person, rather than a computer.  Subject headings are also assigned based on the topic of the article, rather than just the words that appear in the text.

For example, let’s say I was doing a project on teaching methods.  There are many words I can type into the library catalogue or online databases that would bring up words on this topic: teaching, teaching methods, teachers, instruction, instruction methods, education , education methods, educate, educating, educators…

Who knows which word in the list above is the “best” word, that will bring up the most relevant articles to my topic? A function of subject headings is to take this guess work out of researching.  Rather than typing out ALL those variations on teaching methods, I can use a subject heading that would cover all of these concepts.

Some online databases, therefore, have a list of standardized words that you can use to search instead of using keywords. This list includes definitions, too, so you know which word is the best one. Using our example from above, even if an article never says the word “instruction” in the text but has been assigned the subject heading “instruction”, then it will appear when you conduct a search using this subject heading.

Subject headings must be looked up first, though, before you start researching.  (See “How do I look up subject headings” for more information on how to do this.)  This process takes some practice, but it’s worth the effort!

If you’d like to try using subject headings on your own, a good place to start is in Western’s Shared Library Catalogue.  Most university libraries use Library of Congress Subject Headings, and Western is no different.  Each item (i.e. each book) is assigned subject headings by Western’s cataloguers, and you can find these if you scroll to the bottom of any record in the catalogue.  Know that this will only work in the catalogue and not in Summon, which works like Google rather than traditional databases.

For more information (for our science students) you can also see the Western Libraries video tutorial on using subject headings.

How do you find full-text articles?

We’ve all had this happen to us: we’ll come across a really great article, but getting the full-text is next to impossible.  We can find the citation and the abstract, and we’ll even try the “Get it @ Western” button, but nothing seems to work.

While there are many explanations as to why this problem occurs, it usually comes down to money: while a journal may be indexed (or its contents are listed) in a variety of databases, Western may only pay for one database to provide full-text access.  OR we may have access through the journal’s website.  Rather than wasting time by guessing, there are a few simple steps you can follow to find full-text articles quickly.

  1. Head to the library catalogue: http://alpha.lib.uwo.ca.
  2. Change the search option to “Journal Title”
  3. Enter the exact name of the journal (including “of” or “the”).
  4. Check to see if you can get online access to the journal
  5. Check to see if you can get online access to the volume you need. This is done by looking at the date range to the right of the database name.
  6. Click the link to visit the website or database for full text access
  7. Browse to the volume/issue of your article
  8. Find the PDF/Full text version of your article

Things that can happen that will screw this process up:

  1. When you visit the database or journal, the list of past issues isn’t right there on the screen.  Look for a link that says “archive” or “past issues.”
  2. Western may not have online access to the journal (as determined by steps 4 or 5 above).  If this happens, scroll down in the catalogue to see if we carry the journal in print.  Record the name of the library that carries the journal, and the call number.  Then you get to go on a field trip to find your journal article!
  3. Western may not subscribe to the journal at all.  If this happens, see a library staff person about what to do next.  We have a service called Interlibrary loan that will allow you to borrow items (including journal articles) from other universities: the library staff will help you determine if this is an appropriate option for you.

Why is it so hard to find full-text articles?!

This is a question we receive regularly at the Beryl Ivey Library, and is a common problem.  Many students can find the titles of journal articles without difficulty, but get stuck when it comes to accessing the full text of an article.  This is usually the case when you’re using traditional databases rather than Summon.

Why does this happen, you ask?  Usually the answer comes down to money: journal subscriptions are extremely expensive.  Even though you may be able to see a journal in many different databases, libraries usually only pay for one provider to give full-text access.  This means that we might find the citation or the abstract of a journal article in three or four different databases, but will only get the full article from one of those databases.

This is also the reason that the “Get it @ Western” feature doesn’t always work the way we expect it to.  Again, Get it @ Western is a fee-based service that is only linked with certain databases.  While it is a convenient feature when it works, it will not always provide direct access to full-text articles.

Yet another reason why full-text articles are hard to find is because of our assumptions: it is easy to believe that all journal articles can be found online.  Summon and other full-text products can give us this assumption, since they are only displaying online articles.  This is not always the case, though.  The library may subscribe to a journal only in print, for example; back issues of journals before the internet was popular (i.e. during the mid 1990’s) may not be available electronically, either.

Finally, access problems may come down to timing.  Some publishers will release the print version of a journal ahead of the online – even up to a year in advance.   This means you would have to photocopy the article rather than printing it from online.  Other journals will post the abstract of an article way before the journal is ready (often because the findings of the study are considered ground breaking).  In this case, you would have to wait for the full-text journal article to be released.

To help reduce the frustration the above limitations cause, I recommend keeping an internet window open to the library catalogue whenever you’re researching (http://alpha.lib.uwo.ca).  This way, you can quickly check which database provides full text access to an article, without having to guess.  Sometimes Western may only carry a journal in print, too, which the library catalogue will tell you.

For step-by-step instructions on how to find journal articles quickly, see the blog post: How do you find full-text articles?