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Consult librarians when in doubt about where to obtain information.

Sometimes people are embarrassed about asking for help in using the library; they feel as if they should know how to use the library once they get into college. However, librarians are information technology specialists who are employed by colleges and universities to serve as research mentors. Information technologies are radically transforming research processes and even well-published professors commonly seek help from librarians.

Librarians can help you decide which library databases are most likely to contain material on your topic. They can help you develop a list of search terms to use with library and internet resources.

They can help you identify scholarly journals vs. popular magazines. If material you need is not at your library, they can explain the interlibrary loan system and other document delivery services that might be available to you. They can help you determine if other libraries in your area have the information you need. They can provide you with information about searching through library resources off-campus, too.

Librarians can give you the best help if you have given yourself ample time to do your research. With all the resources that are available, you can't always get instantaneous results. Give yourself some time to identify, find, evaluate, and select the material best suited for your project. For example, sometimes instructors say, "Don't use anything from the Internet!" Your instructor may want you to become familiar with journals and magazines. Whenever possible, ask your instructor for clarification. Can you use journals found in your library's databases? A lot of libraries are now using the Web to deliver electronic copies of the same journals and reference sources they once received in paper copy.

When discussing your topic, the librarian may ask you some questions to clarify what you need. Are you working on a major research paper? A short persuasive piece? Did your instructor ask you to concentrate on learning to use certain kinds of sources? Any information you can provide about the purpose of your research will help.

Keep in mind that not everyone who works in a library is a librarian!

So where can you find one? Look around for a reference desk or information desk. Also, look at your library's web site. Librarians are using both email and chat software to provide reference service to their users. You may see a link to an "ask-a-librarian" service. Try your library first since it will know the resources that are available to you and will provide the quickest service, but you might like to know some additional examples of electronic reference services:

Librarian Chat Rooms

Below are links to chat rooms sponsored by universities that are accessible to students worldwide.

  • Ask a Librarian (Library of Congress): Designed for researchers and sponsored by the U.S. Library of Congress, this site offers practical, concise help on research. Users may also chat online with a librarian.
  • Ask an ipl2 Librarian: Hosted by The iSchool at Drexel, College of Information Science and Technology, with major support from the College of Information at Florida State University, this service allows you to email questions to professional librarian volunteers and graduate students in library science programs.