Making Life Easier for You and Your Librarian: Ways to Use Ask-the-Librarian

Here in the library, we get several questions from the Ask-the-Librarian email link as well as Chat every day. Most of the time we are able to find good information for our patrons. But occasionally, we are stymied, not so much by the information needed, but by the form the question takes.

For example, at least once a semester (every semester), I’ll get an email like this: “nature/nurture.” Now because other students have emailed me, I’m guessing that this is a question from the psychology assignment that asks students to find scholarly sources on the nature/nurture controversy and come down on one side or the other. But, of course, there is no way I would  know that from the words written there.

So Suggestion 1: Phrase your question in the form of a question. It makes it much easier to answer.

One semester, I received a series of emails from the same person, most of them asking me to summarize basic concepts. Soon it became clear that she was supposed to be writing a summary of each of her chapters and wanted us to do that for her. That was confirmed when her final question was, “Summary Chapter 12.”

Suggestion 2: Do not ask the librarians to do your homework for you.

In the vast majority of cases, however, students use those links for their stated purpose. They want help finding resources, and we want to help. So here are some tips on making the ask-the-librarian time more beneficial for both of us:

  • Give as much information as possible on the front end. If you’re looking for a specific article, let us know the title, author, and/or anything else you might have that will help us find it for you. If your paper requires scholarly journals, let us know. By giving us as much information as you can, you increase the chance that we will send you information that actually fits what you need.
  • Give us time to find the answer. We are answering your questions while we are also working with students here in the library. We promise to get back with you within the day, but we can’t promise to give you answers in a minute or two. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of researching to find the material you need.
  • Be as clear as possible. Assume that we haven’t seen the assignment, so while “factory workers’ wages in China” might be crystal clear to you, it means little to us unless it’s put in context of the actual requirements for the paper.
  • Tell us what course you’re in. Sometimes that’s crucial. If you have to find a research article on child abuse, for example, each of the following areas will have a different take and a whole set of journals to explore: Sociology, Psychology, Education, Social Work, Criminal Justice, etc. By knowing the course, we can get you information that is exactly what you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to let us know if what we send is not quite what you need. We don’t always get it right, but we’re always ready to give it another shot.

By following these simple tips, the Ask-the-Librarian links can be very helpful to you in your research!

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