January 30, 2012

How Librarians Can Help in Real Life, at #scio13, and more

Librarians are so helpful!
(Creative Commons image courtesy of
Christchurch City Libraries on Flickr)
How do librarians help scientists? If you haven't worked with a good librarian, it's hard to know what we can offer and how we can be useful. I'd love to see a session at a scholarly conference (ScienceOnline, AEJMC, I'm looking at you!) where librarians model how we work our magic with patrons.

I envision a real-time demonstration of the "reference interaction"* between a librarian and a grad student or other patron type. *The term "reference interaction" is used to indicate the session where one of us meets with a researcher ("you") and asks questions about what kind of information you need. We then suggest resources tailored to your need and make sure you know how to use them. 

In my current position, as librarian for journalism & mass communication, recent questions have included:
  • How to download the entire issue of magazine from HathiTrust 
  • Information about online advertising rates for newspapers. Patron needs both the rates themselves as well as scholarly articles about online advertising for newspapers. 
  • Looking for NBC News archives for possible use on Carolina Week
  • Need scholarly articles on the history of social media for an independent study. 
  • Fact-checking resources for a class of advanced editing students (list of resources
As a super librarian / information coach, I was able to help all of these patrons. But if you didn't know someone could help you find resources as diverse as these, you'd just go to Mr. Google (or Dr. Google Scholar; read my thoughts on this) and see if you could find something useful. 

Maybe you'd go to your favorite database -- many students would go to JStor to get scholarly articles because they'd learned about that terrific search engine in a class. BUT that would be unproductive, because JStor doesn't contain current articles in it (why? "moving wall") ... so if you wanted articles about the success of advertising for online newspapers, you'd get frustrated and go back to Mr. Google.  Or maybe you'd go to LexisNexis, because you've used it before. But you wouldn't find scholarly articles there ... so back you'd go to Mr. Google.

Another reason to talk to a librarian is that we work with folks from many disciplines and can often refer you to someone doing related work. For instance, Student A recently asked me how she'd find a list, (ideally with contact information) of African American newspapers. I pointed her to an excellent resource (the Gale Directory of Publications & Broadcast Media) AND mentioned that one of her colleagues, Student B, had used the resource to identify Latino media outlets. I suggested that Student A contact Student B for tips on how best to use the resource for this project.
These reference sessions generally take 10-30 minutes, depending on how detailed the question is and how knowledgeable the patron is about the resources available. Good librarians will make sure that you know the best resources to use AND that you know a few tips on how to make the resource(s) do what you want.
It's one thing to write about this in a blog post, or for librarians to study and discuss this amongst themselves.  There's got to be a way to show you what we do and how we can help ... so I propose a librarian demo at conferences to demystify our services and share resources with a broader audience.

No comments: