Literature research guide

Where do I start?

You can find a number of resources on literature both in the library and online. On the shelves, look for information about literature and writing, such as criticism and books on how to write an essay, in the 800s. Additionally, plays, poems, essays and works of fiction from ancient, medieval and Renaissance times can be found in the 800s.

Some books of criticism may be found in the library's reference section and must stay in the building. Novels and short stories are in the fiction section in alphabetical order by the author's last name.

You can also find full-text poems, book recommendations, criticism and more in Books, reading, and literature.

As always, if you have trouble finding a book or accessing an online resource, just Ask Us!

Where do I find general literature resources?

  • Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. 2008. [R 803 BEN (OWL)]
    A comprehensive work that tries to cover literatures of all times and places. Includes entries for authors, works of literature, fictional characters, literary movements, literary terms and figures of history and myth.
  • Credo Reference: Literature (database)
    This online database contains a number of encyclopedias, dictionaries and other works that will help to answer a range of questions on literature.
  • Dictionary of American Literary Characters by Benjamin Franklin V (editor). 2002. [R 813.009 DIC (OWL, NWL)]
    Major characters from significant American novels from 1789 through 2000 are summarized in brief, alphabetically-arranged entries. Entries are also indexed by the work's title and author.
  • Larousse Dictionary of Literary Characters. 1994. [R 809.927 LAR (OWL)]
    Characters from English language poems, plays and novels are arranged alphabetically in paragraph-long entries. An index organizes characters by author.
  • The Oxford Companion to English Literature by Dinah Birch (editor). 2009. [R 820.3 OXF (OWL), 820.3 OXF (NWL)]
    This volume concentrates on the literature of England, and includes entries for authors, works of literature, fictional characters, genres and literary movements.

Where can I find definitions of literary terms?

  • Credo Reference: Literature (database)
    This online database contains a number of encyclopedias, dictionaries and other works— including Critical Terms for Literary Study and A Dictionary of Literary Symbols— that will help answer questions about literary terms.
  • Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms by Edward Quinn. 2006. [R 803 QUI (OWL, NWL)]
    More interdisciplinary than other literary term books, this title covers literary topics, but also provides information about related concepts in art, philosophy, film, religion and politics.
  • Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J. A. Cuddon. 1998. [R 803 CUD (NWL)]
    From the Abbey Theatre to Zhdanovshchina, this comprehensive reference will give the definition, and often an example of, most terms relating to literature.
  • Longman Dictionary of Literary Terms by X. J. Kennedy. 2006. [R 803 KEN (OWL), 803 KEN (NWL)]
    A good, basic resource that provides brief definitions of terms with examples and cross references.

Where can I get information about an author's life?

Many famous authors have full-length biographies written about them that can be found in the Biographies section of the library under that person's last name. For example, the biography Updike by Adam Begley can be found under the call number "B Updike." In addition, many works of criticism will also contain biographical references and information.

  • Literary Reference Center (database)
    This comprehensive database from EBSCOhost provides a broad spectrum of full-text information on thousands of authors and their works across literary disciplines and timeframes. It features plot summaries (including Masterplots), synopses, work overviews, literary criticism, author biographies, literary journals, book reviews, classic and contemporary poems and short stories, classic novels, author interviews and images of key literary figures.
  • Literature Resource Center (database)
    With approximately 116,000 entries on modern novelists, poets, playwrights, essayists, journalists and scriptwriters, this is an excellent starting point for biographical research on almost any author.
  • The Writers Directory. 2016. [R 920 WRI (OWL)]
    Contains basic biographical data and contact information for living writers who have published at least one work in English. An obituary section lists writers who have died since the last edition.

Where do I look for literature history?

Literary anthologies often have introductions that provide excellent historical overviews of the works they contain.

  • Columbia Literary History of the United States. 1988. [810.9 COL (OWL)]
    A history that begins with Native American expression and ends with contemporary American literature. Some prominent writers are given individual chapters.
  • Short Oxford History of English Literature by Andrew Sanders. 2004. [820.9 SAN (OWL, NWL)]
    Provides an introduction to the literature of the British Isles beginning with the Anglo-Saxon period and continuing to the present day.
  • Twentieth-Century Literary Movements Dictionary. 2000. [R 809.91 TWE (OWL, NWL)]
    This thorough resource has information about well-known and obscure literary movements. Alphabetically-arranged entries range in length from a fraction of a page to several pages.

Where can I find sources of literature criticism?

There are a few places in the library where you can find literary criticism. Although you cannot check out books in the reference section, there are a number that have great deal of information on many different literary works. Many of these are anthologies, collections of different works of criticism in one volume. Further, there are books that you can check out that are criticism of one book exclusively, such as Readings on Pride and Prejudice by Clarice Swisher (editor) [823.7 REA (OWL, NWL)]. Additionally, the library's online resources are always available.

  • American Writers. 1974. [R 810.9 AME (OWL, NWL)]
    This set, currently consisting of four main volumes with 18 supplemental volumes, has lengthy critical essays on American authors arranged in alphabetical order. Pages that cover specific works can be located via indexes.
  • British Writers. 1979. [R 820.9 BRI (OWL, NWL)]
    Similar to American Writers, British Writers currently has seven main volumes with ten supplemental volumes. Critical essays are arranged in chronological order.
  • Literary Reference Center (database)
    Available from home with a valid library card, this comprehensive database provides a broad spectrum of full-text information on thousands of authors and their works across literary disciplines and timeframes. It features plot summaries (including the Masterplots series), synopses, work overviews, literary criticism, author biographies, literary journals, book reviews, classic and contemporary poems and short stories, classic novels, author interviews and images of key literary figures.
  • Literature Resource Center (database)
    Gale, a publisher of reference books, created this database with access to biographies, bibliographies and critical analysis of authors from every age and literary discipline. Included are more than 415,000 full-text journal articles, 122,000 author biographies, 44,000 critical essays, 5,000 plot summaries as well as Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature.

Where can I find book reviews?

A book review should not be confused with literature criticism. A book review is written at the time a title is published, with the purpose of providing a basic assessment of the book's quality for the general reader. Literature criticism is typically written years or even centuries after publication, with the purpose of helping students and scholars understand the significance of a book within history or examining a particular aspect of a work of literature.

Literature criticism tends to have more depth than book reviews, but book reviews are nevertheless important resources. It is often difficult to find criticism of non-fiction titles, new books or obscure writers. In such cases, look for information in book reviews.

Book reviews are typically published in magazines and newspapers, both online and in print.

  • Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (database)
    This resource may be used from home with a library card. It has currently compiled 300,000 full-text reviews of children's books searchable from 36 sources.
  • The New York Times Book Review. Weekly.
    The Times Book Review is one of the more important venues for the discussion of current writing, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children's books. The reviews themselves are usually written by writers of note and are of greater length and depth than most reviews found elsewhere. Several months of back issues can be found in Old Worthington Library, Northwest Library and Worthington Park Library.

The New York Times also provides a free full-text archive of reviews dating back to 1981.

Where can I find the online full-text of classic works?

  • BiblioBoard (database)
    Available from home with a valid library card, this collection of e-books includes some full-text classics and primary sources.
  • Digital Downloads (database)
    This database is available from home with a valid library card. Both e-audiobooks and e-books can be downloaded to your computer or mobile device via the OverDrive Media Console software.
  • Literature Online (database)
    Available from home with a valid library card, these literature collections are electronic books of American and English literature, poetry, drama, fiction and the Bible. Each collection contains the online full text of one or more books originally published in print. For example, American Poetry 1600-1900 is a collection of 1,200 books of poetry, containing more than 40,000 works from over 200 poets.
  • Project Gutenberg
    This collection contains over 33,000 free e-book titles in the public domain, including many classic works. For help downloading e-books from this site, see the Mobile Reader Devices How-To.

What are some useful poetry resources?

  • Granger's Index to Poetry in Anthologies. 2007. [R 808.81 COL (OWL, NWL)]
    If you are trying to locate a specific poem or just looking for poems about a particular topic, turn to Granger's. Every few years, Columbia University publishes this index of current poetry anthologies that allows you to search for poems by author, subject, title, first line and last line.
  • New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. 1993. [R 808.103 NEW (OWL)]
    This comprehensive encyclopedia offers detailed entries on all aspects of poetry, from its history and types to major poetry movements and critical terminology, including entries on 106 national poetries such as Hebrew, Italian or Thai poetry.
  • World Poets. 2000. [R 809.1 WOR (OWL, NWL)]
    Designed primarily for high school students, this three-volume set profiles individual poets of various eras and nations.

How can I find information about plays?

Theater yearbooks

Worthington Libraries owns several series of theater yearbooks. In these yearbooks, you can find information about plays shown in New York in a given season, the cast of characters and lists of actors. In some volumes, a necrology, or list of obituaries of famous theater persons who passed away during that theater season, can be found. Additionally, full text of some of the year's top plays is reproduced.

  • The Applause/Best Plays Theater Yearbook by Otis Guernsey and Jeffrey Sweet (editors). [808.82 APP (OWL)]
    Worthington Libraries owns the 1990-1991 season.
  • Best Plays by Burns Mantle (editor). [808.82 BES (OWL)]
    Worthington Libraries owns most seasons from 1894 to 1966.
  • The Best Plays Theater Yearbook by Jeffrey Jenkins (editor). [808.82 BES (OWL, NWL)]
    Worthington Libraries owns seasons 2001-2001, 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.


Criticism of Shakespeare's works as well as copies of the works themselves can be found in both the reference and circulating sections of the Library under call numbers beginning 822.33. To find criticism of specific works, do a keyword search in the catalog for "(name of play) criticism interpretation."

  • All Things Shakespeare: An Encyclopedia of Shakespeare's World. 2002. [822.33 OLS (OWL, NWL)]
    This encyclopedia covers the physical environment of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England, including everyday objects, daily activities and popular beliefs and attitudes of the times.
  • Shakespeare for Students. 1992. [R 822.33 SHA (OWL, NWL)]
    Each volume in this ongoing series collects critical essays together into sections on individual plays. Each section also has a brief introduction that includes a plot synopsis.
  • Shakespeare's World and Work: An Encyclopedia for Students. 2001. [R 822.33 SHA (OWL)]
    This three-volume set includes plot synopses, criticism as well as commentaries on how the plays were viewed and interpreted when they were first performed.

What are some good multicultural literature resources?

  • African American Writers. [810.9896 AFR (OWL, NWL)]
    This encyclopedia provides biographical background information on some of the most prominent African-American literary figures, both contemporary and historical. It also includes select criticism and interpretation of writers' major works.
  • Credo Reference: Literature (database)
    This online database contains a number of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other works including The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature, African-American Writers: A Dictionary, The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English and Encyclopedia of Women's Autobiography.
  • Encyclopedia of African-American Writing. [R 810.9896 ENC (OWL)]
    This encyclopedia has short biographies of African-American poets, journalists, novelists, essayists and biographers both historical and contemporary. Also includes a section of excerpts from important or exemplary writings in African-American history.

revised October 2016