Phone a Friend

I learn a lot from my students. Like, really a lot. For instance, I heard about tardigrades from a student who’s doing her capstone project on them, and they are seriously cool. So cool, in fact, that I can’t stop talking about them. If you ask me what’s new, you’re likely to get an extensive lecture on tardigrades, complete with slightly crazed eyes. Fair warning. (More info here: video :: photo.)

I think that it’s a mark of a good librarian to be excited to learn new things, and I think that the students really appreciate a mindset from a librarian that says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about but I’m going to find out because it sounds really neat.” On the other hand, there are certain things about which we need to project an aura of authority. Things like the process of conducting research. But the reality is that sometimes we have absolutely no idea how to go about doing research on certain topics.

Last week, I got a question about finding zoning laws and easements for a piece of property. The student was conducting usage studies for an environmental studies class. While I do know what zoning laws and easements are, and I have some idea of why he would need to know about them, I had absolutely no idea where to even start looking. It was about 9pm, I was the only librarian around, and the student needed the information by class the next day. Of course. A couple of factors were working against me on this:

  1. I’m new not only to the area but also to the state. In Michigan, I would have had a better idea where to start.
  2. We live in the Adirondack State Park, which means that there are some unique stakeholders and regulations at play.
  3. New York has a county-town-village system that I find confounding.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to save face on this one. I had to tell the student to come back the next morning and talk with the local historian (also known as my boss). No help available from this newly minted librarian.

And yet on other occasions, through a number of slightly panicked emails, frenzied database testing, and only a tiny bit of face-palming I manage to put on a convincingly authoritative presentation on topics about which I knew nothing 48 hours before. Such was the case last week when faced with Intro to Entrepreneurship and a project on market analysis and competition research. I pulled the classic Who Wants to be a Millionaire cop out of phoning a friend. Or emailing, actually. Thanks to some well-timed advice from my friend Ilana Barnes, I managed to pretend that I knew how to conduct business research. In the process, I learned a ton about business research, the resources available through the library, and also some free resources that I can use to supplement our databases. One favorite is this cool project though the NY Times that can help visualize demographic data.

It was a long couple of days, but I’m really glad that I was able to get all the help I needed and more. Working the network, that’s me.  I know loads more than I did last week, although business research does not top tardigrades in cool-factor.

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One thought on “Phone a Friend

  1. I think one of the joys of being a librarian is that you learn something new every day. People come to you and ask you to go with them on a magic learning journey. Today I learned about linguistic mitigations! Totally great.

    In terms of phone a friend, I do the same thing. I’m constantly tapping my library school bros and my colleagues at my new job and various people I have met at conferences for more help. I do so much phoning in myself, it was excited to be phoned!

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