Literature in Math and Computer Science
what is it? how to search it?
(originally prepared for R.E. Lee Scholars, July 1996, and revised
In many academic fields undergraduate students must deal with the
research literature of the discipline, and learn to search it for
articles and books which contain the cutting edge(s) of the field. This
seems to be less
true in math and computer science, where so much of a student's energies
go into mastering fundamentals, and the research literature is difficult
for the beginner to read. Nonetheless, we have tools available for
some access to research literatures, and anybody contemplating
graduate study in technical fields needs to know something of how the
research literature is structured and accessed.
W&L has subscriptions to a goodly array of journals in Math and
Computer Science, but it's my impression that they aren't much used by
students --partly because some are pretty abstruse, but also because
there's not much connection between their contents and W&L's
curriculum. Math and CS students don't usually do 'research' papers. So
let's look at what our resources are (presently all these journals are
located in Leyburn Library,
though they'll be relocated to the Science Library in summer '97):
Math journals / CS
Now: how can we access what's in these journals? That's partly a
matter of where they are indexed, and secondarily how the indexes
can be searched. We have several tools that may be useful:
Another resource to explore: Springer Verlag
offers us electronic access to full text of its journals.
And Academic Press does the same.
There is one print tool that you should be aware of: Mathematical
Reviews publishes guides to most of the significant scholarly work in
Math and related fields, and has an annual subject index which is
actually usable and useful. You'll find this on LL1 in Leyburn. Here's
a link to the AMS
Mathematical Subject Classification, including links to sites with
"electronic journals, preprints, Web sites and pages".
Mathematical Reviews does have a section on 'Computer Science',
and another on 'Computer aspects of numerical algorithms'. Difficult to
know how exhaustive this is as a representation of computer science
Some important web resources:
In computer science areas there seem to be a LOT of different ways to
access the bleeding edge. Here are links to a few:
Something you should know about, if only as a piece of prophetic writing:
Vannevar Bush's As We May Think 
- WAIS databases on
computer subjects (you can select from a list of some 200+
locations/databases, including quite a few USENET archives, and do
- ACM SIGMOD Information Server
(Special Interest Group on Management of Data)
(Incidentally, a search in AltaVista for "acm sig*"
yields more than 7000 hits. The SIGs are certainly a jungle, but some
have searchable archives, and each constitutes a community of like-minded
- Overview of Artificial
- IEEE Journals
- I am continually amazed at the powers of AltaVista as a means to find
web occurrences of obscure subjects. The advanced searching tools
(wildcards and so on) make it feasible to do some pretty elaborate
searching, though there's almost always a lot of garbage to sort
through to find the pearls. That's true of traditional paper
literature too, of course.
- And I
haven't even mentioned the comp.xxx area of USENET,
since it seems so obvious a source of (mis?)information. The great
advantage is that you can pose questions and expect to get answers.
Some of them will be correct/useful/etc...