What Library Folks Wished Students Knew: Research is Practical

One Saturday night, I was at home recovering from a bad cold. Sitting on the sofa, I wiped my hand across my face to find it covered with blood. (No, this is not the beginning of a slasher novel.)  I occasionally have nose bleeds, so I ran into the bathroom to get a tissue. Looking in the mirror, I found my nose was fine. It seemed my mouth was bleeding. Ugh! It was not a pretty sight, and I have to admit it scared me. But upon closer examination, I found that it was not my mouth, but my lip. Still, there was an awful lot of blood for such a small space. 

With one hand pressing the tissue to my lip, I used the other to do a search on my iPad. And I discovered that split lips bleed a lot but are rarely serious. (Now if I’d been in a bar fight as a young Jolly Librarian, I would have known this from experience. But since not, research calmed me down.)

Although, as an English professor, I always encouraged students to choose research topics that had some relevance to their lives, I could tell many felt that the research process was an academic exercise, one that bore little reality to their experience or futures. 

But research has practical, real-life implications; students may not realize they are doing research when they

  • look up car or computer reviews before making a purchase,
  • compare bank websites to see which one has the best loan rates,
  • read a book on how to help a child who is doing poorly in math or being bullied, or
  • do a search when confronted with a bleeding lip.

One bittersweet memory of my childhood occurred after my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My dad has never been much of a reader, but one afternoon, I found him studying the current Reader’s Digest with intensity; he was reading about the treatments for prostate cancer. He would never think of himself as a researcher, but that’s exactly what he was doing that day.

So the next time, a professor announces that there will be a research paper in a class, keep in mind that he/she is truly preparing you for a skill that you will need, no matter what you find yourself doing after college. 

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