Monday, March 1, 2010

Introduction to Reference: Pathfinders

The intent of a pathfinder is to locate reference materials in a variety of formats. It is also intended to teach the process of creating reference tools for library patrons.

A pathfinder is an introductory list of a variety of sources of information on a specific topic. Often it is created to aid patrons in doing research in a particular library and to acquaint patrons to the holdings of a library in a subject of interest. Alice Sizer Warner defines a pathfinder “as a bibliographic tool designed to get patrons up to speed fast in finding out by themselves what they want to know.” (American Libraries, March 1983, p.150).

Remember, a pathfinder is not meant to be an in depth bibliography so be careful to select a subject whose scope is appropriate for a pathfinder. Canadian history would be too large and Teaching Philosophy to Three Year Olds would be too narrow. A subject should be broad enough to have at least 20 distinct and important sources but small enough to be well covered by this number of sources.

A pathfinder is not comprehensive. It is an introductory list of a variety of sources of information on a specific topic. A pathfinder is not just an ordinary bibliography or list of sources, it is a subject oriented research guide designed to encourage self-directed use of the library.

All, or most, of the following categories should appear in your pathfinder, generally in the same sequence.

Scope statement: A short definition of the subject, the audience and the library for which the pathfinder was prepared.

Topic: What are you talking about?

Scope: How much of the topic are you covering? All rug collecting, or just collecting one type of rug?
Audience: Who is your audience? College library patrons with a personal interest in the topic? Layperson, professional, students in a particular course? Staff members? Others?

Introductory materials: This section usually describes a specific source which would give a beginner a general introduction or overview. Two or three may be cited as appropriate. May be an encyclopedia article, journal article, chapter of a book, etc.

Subject headings: A listing of the subject headings used in the library’s OPAC under which the user will find sources on the topic. Usually listed in order of importance but can also be ranked qualitatively, by describing as “highly relevant”; “also relevant”; “related” or other terms which indicate their usefulness.

Call Numbers: for browsing in the stacks.

Reference Works: Encyclopedias, handbooks, directories, almanacs, atlases, bibliographies, etc. (online versions to which the library subscribes or which are freely available on the Web are acceptable.) This section generally lists specialized encyclopedias and other reference materials that relate specifically to the topic. Sources should generally provide substantial information on the topic.

Books: List the best two or three books specifically on the topic. Be sure to include the “classic” text on the subject when there is one.

Abstracts/indexes: Include indexing tools, which would be available and list the entry terms that would be most appropriate. If there are magazines, which consistently contain relevant articles, list them here.

Internet resources: (don’t go overboard here, limit yourself to three or four maximum): List here any Internet sites on the topic that have been fully examined and found to be accurate and authoritative.

Non-print sources: e.g. videos: List representative titles when these materials are available. It’s a good reminder that information comes in many formats.

Government publications: (may or may not be appropriate)

Other sources deemed appropriatee.g. individuals (with permission), associations/organizations, etc.

The commentary on the search process is something users will never see. However, it details how sources were selected and evaluated.

The sources used to locate each citation on the pathfinder e.g. library OPAC, specific indexes, bibliographies, reference works, search engines/directories and the search terms/strategies employed.
The selection criteria used for each category listed and how the resources included meet these criteria.

The titles of the resources examined, but chose not to include. Why were they rejected?

All bibliographic citations must follow the APA Style Manual. Entries are to be single spaced with double spacing between entries. If there is more than one entry under a heading, list them in alphabetical order. Include call numbers as applicable.

Provide evaluative annotations for the sources on the pathfinder. The annotations do not have to be extensive, one to two sentences not exceeding 50 words will do. There is no need to write in full sentences.

When writing an evaluative annotation it is not sufficient to say “This is a good book/web site on…” You need to state why the source is good, e.g. “site includes an overview of the topic and has a comprehensive list of hotlinks to…”

Further information about writing annotations is available at:

Citation guide: a guide to creating citations for bibliographies and works cited papers

Academic writing: Annotated bibliography

How to prepare an annotated bibliography

If there are no materials under a particular category then leave that category out. If you find a category that has not been listed feel free to add it.

Numerous examples of pathfinders are available over the Internet, e.g.

Chichen-Itza pathfinder

Sendero – Shining Path pathfinder

Metadata: A Pathfinder

For additional information on pathfinders checkout:

Models for creating pathfinders. Retrieved January 12, 2004, from Springfield Township High School Virtual Library site:

A Pathfinder for constructing pathfinders. Retrieved February 9, 2010, from Wenatchee School District Website.

Pathfinder links, Retrieved February 9, 2010 from

Western Australia. Dept. of Education and Training. (n.d.) A Pathfinder to develop pathfinders. Retrieved January 12, 2004, from

Template for creating pathfinders. Retrieved January 12, 2004, from Wenatchee School District Web site:

For additional information on APA style check out:

Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (5th ed.) (2001).
Washington, DC : American Psychological Association.

Using American Psychological Association (APA) format (Updated to 6th ed.): Your reference list (2010).

Using APA format (2003, July 23). Retrieved January 12, 2004, from Ryerson University Library Web site:

Compiling a bibliography according to APA. (2003, June 11). Retrieved January 12, 2004, from Nova Scotia Community College Web site:

Citation style for writing research papers. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from Kwantlen Polytechnic University web site

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