Guide to Library Resources

Navigating academic literature is a central skill we’ll address in this class. These notes are intended to help orient you to the resources available via the CMU Libraries.

There are two main areas of discourse we will consider: robotics research and fine art. Each has their own culture surrounding publication and this page will address them separately.

Library Search Resources

Note: some library resources will require installation and use of the Carnegie Mellon University VPN on your computer. You may also wish to install Reference Management Software to assist you during searches.

The library staff has assembled several useful guides to searching for literature:

Robotics Research Literature

Science makes progress via the ongoing conversation in published academic papers and articles. The peer-reviewed literature aspires to a high standard of accuracy and care and aims to represent the best understanding of a problem and solution at a given point in time. A well-written paper will formulate a novel problem, provide a precisely stated and thoroughly tested solution, and carefully cite the relevant previous work on which it is founded.

The process of citation serves several purposes. It supports a compression of the discussion by assuming familiarity with other works. It also provides accounting for reputation credit, the essential currency of academia. But for our purposes, the most important feature of the citation process is that it connects related work. Papers which garner a large number of citations implicitly describe a body of work defined by those citations. If subsequent authors were careful to cite works pertinent to their own discoveries, then the body of work will encompass meaningful similarity in themes and questions.

Robotics is a relatively young and dynamic field and so results are frequently superseded through the march of understanding and technology improvement. Some papers have stood the test of time better than others. But it is important to recognize that the literature constitutes a conversation in which many papers represent snapshots of ongoing progress shared back and forth.

There are several publication mechanisms we will see:

  • Technical Reports. Not peer-reviewed, these are frequently university-hosted papers documenting work in progress or preliminary experimental results.

  • Conference Proceedings. These are peer-reviewed papers accepted for presentation at an annual conference and published in the proceedings. Lots of these are published every year, frequently researchers are only funded for travel if they have an accepted paper, so the incentive is to publish early and often. The lead times are relatively short, papers may be written six months before publication.

  • Journals. These are peer-reviewed articles published in a periodical journal. These are typically longer and more complete than conference papers and held to a higher standard. It is a common pattern to see a researcher publish several conference papers reporting progress on a line of work which culminates in a journal paper. The lead time can be quite long, as much as several years, especially if the journal organizes themed issues and holds a paper for a specific issue.

  • Textbooks. Eventually well-established techniques are gathered into book form. Sometimes these are written by a single set of authors, but a common form is a set of chapters on a common theme, each written by different authors. Both the whole volume or individual chapters may be cited in other works.

  • Theses and Dissertations. These are the final documents submitted by MS and PhD students. They are peer-reviewed by the student’s committee, and generally provide long-form discussion of a research project. There are frequently related conference and journal papers also published during the project.

  • Magazines and trade publications. These articles are generally not peer-reviewed, but are sometimes written by leading experts and can provide valuable context and perspective.

Art Literature

A chief difference between art and science is that scientists are generally responsible for writing and publishing reports on their own work, but frequently artists make the work but others write about it in reviews and articles.