We’re Librarians, Not Enablers

Occasionally, we’ll get a question on Ask-the-Librarian that is not really a question at all, but a basic plea for us to do the assignment for the emailer. Sometimes it’s clear the person doesn’t understand the assignment, and a few questions on our part will put him/her on the right track. But other times, it’s just as clear that we’re seen as a substitute for the hard work involved in research.

Basically, here’s what we can’t do:

  • Give you a research topic, provide you with all the sources, and the correct citations.
  • Answer your homework questions for you.
  • Tell instructors that their assignments are ridiculously hard or that there are no sources for your topic.

Why can’t we do these things?

  • Instructors would come to the library and beat us up.
  • We’re not the ones being graded. We’ve done our research papers and earned our grades. It’s your turn.
  • In the long run, you’ll not thank us when you don’t learn how to do research. (You may not think so now, but if you plan to continue your college career, this shortcut will definitely catch up with you.)

So what can we do?

  • Help you come up with strong search terms that will yield results.
  • Direct you to the best databases for your search.
  • Find sample articles so you can follow our example and successfully find more.
  • Help you with citations. (Notice the ‘help’ word.)
  • Direct you to good sources, whether they be books, articles, or websites.
  • Question you so that you can come up with a plan for your research.

How can you get the most out of an encounter with a librarian?

  • Know what the assignment is. 
  • Do some preparation. Have an idea of a topic. Look at a couple of databases. See if the library has any books on the subject.
  • Know what your weaknesses are. Maybe you can find materials on Machiavelli, for instance, but are having a hard time finding present-day examples of his leadership style. Then we can focus on where you really need the help.
  • Realize your instructor is the person who makes the final call on all aspects of your paper. Don’t try to make the librarians take sides. We weren’t in the classroom. We haven’t heard all the discussions. Always go with your instructor.
  • Take responsibility for your paper. The library staff wants to help, but we won’t take over the writing of your paper. We just can’t. Don’t ask.

In the library, we love to help students learn. But we can’t cross the line between helping students on their papers and doing the work for them. So please realize, when we say no, it’s because we have your best interests at heart. I know it doesn’t feel like it at the moment. But we do.

For those of you who need some help on your first argument paper, here’s a guide just for you.





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