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Contemporary Canadian Govt. & Politics: A Research Guide: Ask Your Librarian!


University libraries and large public libraries have paid professionals (reference librarians) whose job it is to help researchers find the information they need.

Reference librarians are there for you, use them! There is nothing shameful about asking for their help. On the contrary, it is silly NOT to. There are always new sources, new reference tools and new databases coming out. Even the experts in a field have trouble keeping up, but this is part of a reference librarian's job. Also, most libraries have some materials that are not possible or easy to find using the library catalogue or other usual methods.

You can usually ask for assistance by telephone, email, or in person, although the hours may be limited and the response time for email requests will vary. The best way to ask for research assistance is in person.

Whichever method you use, ask for exactly what you would like to get; be as clear and precise as possible. If your question is general and vague, the librarian can only find general and vaguely useful sources. Don't just limit your request to the library resources you may expect to contain the information. Ask for the information you need and the librarian will be able to select resources that may be more useful than what you had in mind.

Tell the reference librarian what your research project is, what the purpose for it is, and what you are trying to find out or accomplish (there may be several different ways of getting the information you need and several formats in which the information comes; the librarian can only direct you to the most appropriate if he/she knows some of the details of your research.)

TIP: Not all reference librarians are created equal. Most university libraries have librarians who specialize in a particular subject or subjects. If you are doing serious research find out if you can make an appointment with the librarian specializing in Canadian government and/or politics for a private consultation. You will find contact information for librarians on most library websites.


Libraries have been collecting books and other forms of government and political information for a long time. They are the best general sources for research materials. Books can go out of print very quickly and online sources can be removed from the Internet at any time. Libraries and archives have the mandate to collect, keep and make information available to researchers over time.

Each library will have its own major clientele and collection strengths, but what makes libraries so valuable is the work they do to collect appropriate information, describe it, classify it by subject, organize it for easy retrieval, provide access and advice to researchers.

Cataloguers create a record for every item by recording basic information such as the title, author, publisher, number of pages, etc. They also assign one or more subject headings from a controlled vocabulary system so that users can find all books on the subject, without having to guess at all the possible synonyms or other keywords that might be applicable. A unique call number is then assigned to each item so that users can find it easily on the shelf.

In most public and university libraries books are shelved in call number order, with books on a subject appearing together allowing you to browse the shelves by subject. When government documents collections are separate, they are usually browsable by the authoring body (department, agency, etc.). The records describing the library's holdings are combined to form the library catalogue, a searchable database of all the information in the library. Most libraries have their catalogues available for searching on their websites.

For more details on searching library catalogues see Finding Information: Books.

Voilà, the National Union Catalogue. Library and Archives Canada.

This joint catalogue covers the holdings of over 1,000 Canadian libraries.

Canadian Library Search. Library and Archives Canada.

A database that allows you to search for a Canadian library by type, province, city, name, or OCLC symbol and provides contact information including links to the library websites.

Federal Government Libraries. page that lists and links to the remaining federal government libraries by department or agency.

Other Specialized Libraries: Political associations and other organizations may have their own libraries. These can have unique resources not available elsewhere and librarians who are experts in the subject. Note: They are not all open to the public. Check first. The following directories provide contact information and brief descriptions of special libraries' collections:

Libraries Canada. Toronto: Grey House Publishing, 1992 - . Annual. (Formerly Directory of Libraries in Canada.)

Available in print and online by subscription. Indexed by subject and location, over 6,000 libraries are listed with the services they offer, details on their collections, and contact information.

Associations Canada: An Encyclopedic Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac & Directory Pub. Co., 1974 - . Title varies.

Available in print and online by subscription. directory of over 19,000 Canadian associations organized alphabetically by name, with a keyword index in the back. If the association has a library the entry will give details and contact information.

Libraries with Large Collections on Canadian Government and Politics: The two largest university research libraries in Canada (below) have excellent collections. For provincial and municipal collections, or other specific topics within contemporary Canadian government and politics, see also Special Topics.

University of Toronto Library Search:

University of Alberta Library Search: