Librarians: The Ultimate Research Aid


October 3, 2011
by Lisa Lowdermilk
I was working on a research paper recently and spent hours scouring the web for the answer to a question one of my teachers had asked. I didn't know about “Ask a Librarian” then but if I did, I would have saved myself a lot of time and frustration.

I was working on a research paper recently and spent hours scouring the web for the answer to a question one of my teachers had asked. I didn't know about “Ask a Librarian” then but if I did, I would have saved myself a lot of time and frustration.

What is “Ask a Librarian” you wonder? Basically, it's a site hosted by Florida State University where a live person – a real-life librarian, in fact! – answers your questions. In today's world of automated answering services, it's great to have access to a resource like this one...plus, it's free!

You start off by typing in your name, email address, subject (they include psychology, business, music, politics and many more) and the question you want an answer to. So far, so good? Next, you must provide some background information regarding your question so that the librarian understands the context of your question and how you will use the information. For example, telling the librarian that you need to know how photosynthesis works for a specific experiment you're conducting (and explaining the experiment in detail) is more effective than just telling the librarian that you need to more about photosynthesis. You also have the option of telling the librarian which sources you've already consulted so that he/she doesn't waste his/her time and yours by returning the same results. Just make sure you don't wait until the night before your paper is due, as it typically takes three days for a librarian to get back to you through this service.

Waited until the last minute, did you? It happens to all of us now and again so in this case, ask your school librarian for help. Discussing your issue much easier in person and eliminates the back and forth (and potential misunderstandings) of email as well. Even if you’re not pressed for time, find a librarian and pick their brain – most will be more than willing to help you out!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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