Dear Ms. Information,
I always thought that I was supposed to do everything myself in the library, and then a friend says she always asks the librarians for help. My question is - what kind of things do you do, and when can I ask for help? I guess I want to know why it's not considered cheating to ask for help.
-psych major '09
Thanks for the great question. Many people are confused about what it is librarians are here to do, and the simple answer is - "to help!". We want students to know how to do research on their own, but we're here to teach them how because research isn't something very many people have been taught to do well.
It's best if you do some thinking and some preliminary research before coming to the librarian because this usually helps you to figure out what exactly it is you're looking for, and we'll always ask "What have you already done?". When you get to a stopping point, it's time to ask for help. You might realize that you don't know where to find the information you need, or you might be searching through a database and not having any luck, or you may be confused by the fact that your professor has indicated that she wants you to use scholarly resources and you're not sure what these are. These are all great times to ask a librarian for help, whether you're working on your PhD Dissertation, an English 101 paper or anything in between.
Just like your Biology professor is an expert in his or her field, and your English professor is an expert in the English field, librarians are experts in the field of research. A librarian must earn a Master's degree in Library Science, and spends his or her days working with information. Some librarians specialize in certain subject areas but a good librarian, just like a good researcher knows how to find quality information in any discipline. When we help a student, we help them come up with answers on their own. We might suggest certain databases, journals, or reference books and get you started on searching these until you feel comfortable, but you will find the information yourself. You will make the decision as to whether it's the sort of information you need (although we can discuss this with you), which is why it's not considered cheating; you are doing the real work! Just like seeing a math tutor isn't cheating, neither is consulting a librarian.
I hope I've answered your questions. The next time you're being stared down by a tough research question or are stuck as to how to find a particular resource - give us a call, send us an email, or drop by. Our contact information can be found here.
Do you have a question for Ms. Information? Ms. Information welcomes your questions about research, libraries, and how to find all kinds of information. Submit your question to mhaller [at] roosevelt [dot] edu.
(sorry to give you the email address like this, it's a way of avoiding spam - thanks for understanding)