If you hear the word “research” and get a little queasy inside, you’re hardly alone. Many people dread the idea of having to research something, whether for a speech or a paper. However, there are amazing people who are like wizards of information called librarians, and they live in a mystical place of knowledge called the library. OK, so maybe they’re not wizards and libraries aren’t mystical, but librarians and libraries are definitely a good speaker’s best friend. Whether you are dealing with a librarian at a public library or an academic library, librarians have many tricks and shortcuts up their sleeves to make hunting for information easier and faster (George, 2008). You may find it odd that we decided to start a chapter on research discussing librarians, but we strongly believe that interacting with librarians and using libraries effectively is the first step to good research.
To help make your interactions with research librarians more fulfilling, we sent out an e-mail to research librarians who belong to the American Library Association asking them for tips on working with a research librarian. Thankfully, the research librarians were very willing to help us help you. Listed below are some of the top tips we received from research librarians (in no particular order)Author Note: We wish to thank the numerous reference librarians who went out of their way to help us develop our top eighteen tips to working with reference librarians. We opted to keep their comments anonymous, but we want to thank them here.
- Debra Rollins, Louisiana State University-Alexandria
- William Badke, Trinity Western University
- Ingrid Hendrix, University of New Mexico
- Ward Price, Ivy Tech Community College, Northeast
- Tracy L. Stout, Missouri State University
- Sandra J. Ley, Pima Community College
- Annie Smith, Utah Valley University Library
- Sharlee Jeser-Skaggs, Richland College Library
- Leslie N. Todd, University of the Incarnate Word
- Susan G Ryberg, Mount Olive College
- Kathleen A. Hana, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis University Library
- Red Wassenich, Austin Community College
- Elizabeth Kettell, University of Rochester Medical Center
- Your librarian is just as knowledgeable about information resources and the research process as your professor is about his or her discipline. Collaborate with your librarian so that you can benefit from his or her knowledge.
- Try to learn from the librarian so that you can increase your research skills. You’ll need these skills as you advance in your academic coursework, and you’ll rely on these skills when you’re in the workplace.
- When we are in our offices, we aren’t on reference desk duty. Whether an office door is open or closed, please knock first and wait to be invited in. With that said, if we are at the reference desk, we are there to help you. Please ask! You aren’t interrupting. Helping students does not bother us. It is our job and profession, and we like doing it.
- I’m here to teach you, not go to bat for you. Please don’t expect me to write a note to your instructor because the materials (reference, reserve, or whatever) weren’t available.
- Please, please, please don’t interrupt me when I am working with another student. This happens regularly and we work on a first-come, first-serve basis. Wait your turn.
- If we help you find sources, please take a look at them, so we will be more likely to want to help you in the future.
- Research is a process, not an event. If you haven’t allocated enough time for your project, the librarian can’t bail you out at the very last minute
- Don’t expect the librarian to do the work that you should be doing. It is your project and your grade. The librarian can lead you to the resources, but you have to select the best sources for your particular project. This takes time and effort on your part.
- Reference librarians are professional searchers who went to graduate school to learn how to do research. Reference librarians are here to help no matter how stupid a student thinks her or his question is.
- Good research takes time and, while there are shortcuts, students should still expect to spend some time with a librarian and to trawl through the sources they find.
- Students should also know that we ask questions like, “Where have you looked so far?” and “Have you had a library workshop before?” for a reason. It may sound like we’re deferring the question, but what we’re trying to do is gauge how much experience the student has with research and to avoid going over the same ground twice.
- Students should approach a librarian sooner rather than later. If a student isn’t finding what they need within fifteen minutes or so, they need to come find a librarian. Getting help early will save the student a lot of time and energy.
- If you don’t have a well-defined topic to research, or if you don’t know what information resources you’re hoping to find, come to the reference desk with a copy of your class assignment. The librarian will be glad to help you to select a topic that’s suitable for your assignment and to help you access the resources you need. Having at least a general topic in mind and knowing what the assignment entails (peer-reviewed only, three different types of sources, etc.) helps immensely.
- Most academic librarians are willing to schedule in-depth research consultations with students. If you feel you’ll need more time and attention than you might normally receive at the reference desk or if you’re shy about discussing your research interest in a public area, ask the librarian for an appointment.
- Students, if they know their topic, should be as specific as possible in what they ask for. Students who are struggling with identifying a narrow topic should seek help from either their professors or librarians. We can’t help you find sources if your topic isn’t really very clear.
- Students need to learn that many questions do not have ready-made or one-stop answers. Students need to understand that an interface with a reference librarian is a dialog and part of a recursive, repetitive process. They need to make time for this process and assume an active role in the exchange.
- Students should understand that information can come in a variety of formats. If a student asks for a “book about” something without providing any other details about the information needed, that student could come away empty handed. Instead, students should get in the habit of asking for “information about” something first.
- “Gee thanks!” every now and then will win every librarian’s heart!
George, M. W. (2008). The elements of library research: What every student needs to know. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.