Locating Particular Works of Literature

Patrons often ask us for a copy of a particular work of literature - a play, poem, essay, or short story.

Many of these are easily found through use of the library's catalog, but many are contained in collections or anthologies, and the library's catalog may not list each individual item. To find them, you must use special indexes. You have already learned about the use of READERS' GUIDE and GRANGER'S INDEX TO POETRY, two very important special indexes.

READERS' GUIDE is one of the most useful sources for locating particular short works, since many are either originally published in magazines, or reprinted here. Entries are found in several ways and have changed over the years. For example, between 1919 and 1957, and beginning again in 1982-83, there is a heading "Poems" where all poetry can be found listed together by title. There have always been entries by the author of the work and in some years by subject; for example, "Halloween Poetry." The introductory pages in each volume will give you more special subject headings.

Specialized indexes exist in several fields and you should be aware of them even if you don't have them in your own library. Best known of these, in addition to GRANGER'S, are SHORT STORY INDEX, ESSAY AND GENERAL LITERATURE INDEX, PLAY INDEX and Ottemiller's INDEX TO PLAYS IN COLLECTIONS.

The SHORT STORY INDEX has been published by the H.W. Wilson Company since 1953, although other indexes did exist before that which this supersedes. It has come out in several supplements, now being published annually with 5 year cumulations. It has an author, title and subject approach. Until 1975, it indexed only short stories in anthologies, but since then, it has included stories in magazines indexed in either READERS' GUIDE or the HUMANITIES INDEX (another index published by the Wilson Company).

A companion to the SHORT STORY INDEX is the ESSAY AND GENERAL LITERATURE INDEX. There are many books which contain chapters or essays by various authors, and the ESSAY AND GENERAL LITERATURE INDEX makes access to these individual pieces easier. Also published by Wilson, its coverage begins in 1900. Approach is by author and subject. This is a good place to check for biographical information, too. For example, one of the books indexed in volume 9 is SEVEN VICTORIAN ARCHITECTS, and each of the people discussed is indexed in the volume.

Ottemiller's INDEX TO PLAYS IN COLLECTIONS is a one volume set covering plays in collections since 1900. The date to which coverage extends depends on the edition you have. PLAY INDEX, another Wilson publication, operates like all their indexes - that is, volumes come out successively and build on each other, so all need to be consulted in many cases. It is more inclusive in coverage than Ottemiller.

One problem you should be aware of with plays is that many are not published in collections at all but appear as separately printed pamphlets. These are often handled by companies like Samuel French or the Dramatists' Play Service, which not only sell the copies, but also sell the rights to perform the play and collecting royalties on performances. (Their catalogs can be invaluable in your collections These catalogs are available at no cost.)

You should become familiar with the many other indexes to plays which you may have.

If you have any of these indexes, they can be made much more useful by "annotating" them - that is, by noting the call numbers of any books that you have in your own collection in the indexes themselves next to the lists of books indexed. That can save a great deal of time by preventing your searching your library's catalog for anthologies your library does not own.

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This page was last updated on November 18, 2003.