Research Librarians to the Rescue: Experts to Elevate Your Research

The Marx Law Library

The amount of material available in the UC libraries can be difficult to navigate. Research librarians are there to help you find what you're looking for. (Pictured: The Marx Law Library)

When you’re writing papers and conducting research, it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for. Wouldn’t it be great to have a subject matter expert to guide you? Wouldn’t it be even better if this expert were right here on campus? These superheroes are real, and we call them research librarians.

I have been a student at UC for five years, and before speaking with Robert Freeman, I had never met with a research librarian before. Within the first few minutes of our conversation, he had already taught me things I never knew about keywords and databases. Looking back on all the time I spent struggling with digital archives and Google searches, I wish I had set up a meeting like this years ago.

Robert is a librarian for the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. Even if you’ve never set foot in the CECH library, as I hadn’t before our meeting, he can help you navigate the wealth of information housed there. It’s a little intimidating to tackle a subject when you don’t have much background knowledge, but that’s where research librarians come in—they can guide you in exploring a new topic.

“My number one priority is to help with research,” says Robert. “When I get a question from a student, I drop everything and try to always reply that same day.”

Robert says he can help students both in-person or online. Of the 4.5 million items in the library’s collection, 1.5 million of these are e-books, and most of the articles are in digital archives. If you want to check out an item that is only available as a physical copy, but can’t make it to the library in person, they can even mail you anything in their own collection.

“Books, articles, or videos… whatever you want, the library can get it for you,” says Robert. “If we don’t have it in our collection, we can borrow it from another library, or we can purchase it. Don’t buy papers or research articles. The library can get it to you for free.”

With no shortage of resources available through the UC libraries, sometimes the most difficult part of research is just knowing how to find what you’re looking for. Research librarians can help you search effectively by adjusting metadata, coming up with synonyms for your search terms, and using refining filters.

The College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services Library

Don't spend valuable research time roaming through rows of library books. Research librarians are your trusty road maps. (Pictured: The College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services Library)

“850 databases… you see that number, and a lot of people get overwhelmed,” says Robert. “I just need to help them simplify, to show them the specific databases they need to be using, and the techniques they need to search them. Once I walk them through the research process, they can usually take it from there. A lot of times, it’s just getting them started.”

What is Robert’s best piece of advice for students conducting research? Distill your topic down to the core elements, he says. While you can ask Google anything and probably get the answer you want, the library databases don’t work like that. Lacking the predictive algorithms Google uses to interpret your meaning, the databases will search for exactly what you type in. Break down your topic into smaller pieces for keyword searches instead of searching for broad terms.

Shannon Kemen is the reference librarian for the law school, and although I had never entered the College of Law building, she was also able to give me some research tips on my first-ever visit. “We’re here a lot of the time, and students can walk in whenever they want,” she says. “But if somebody is doing research for a paper or dissertation, and they want the most bang for their buck, I would recommend spending a little time doing some preliminary research. If you make an appointment with a reference librarian in advance, we can do background research. I’ll make lists and plot out a plan.”

Of the library’s robust resources, Shannon recommends browsing through the A-Z list of databases. You can even access the databases from home when you connect to the VPN (Virtual Private Network). She does warn, however, that the connection is sometimes a little slow when you’re off-campus. If you’re planning on doing a lot of research, it’s best to come on campus for a better connection.

“Look at the research guides from all the librarians on campus,” says Shannon. “That’s a great place to start when you’re trying to come up with your topic. But if you’re stuck, it’s okay to come in and talk to any librarian, and we can point you in the right direction.”

If you want to increase the chances of getting your paper published, Shannon has some advice: Find an unusual angle. Pick a topic that people have written a lot about, but find a novel aspect that hasn’t been covered yet. You’ll have plenty of background sources, and you can fill in the gaps with things like statistical information and government reports. “Those are extra things that people don’t often think to supplement their research with,” she says. “Then you’ve gone above and beyond.”

How do you make sure every paper you write goes above and beyond? Enlist the help of a student’s secret weapon: research librarians. Robert and Shannon are part of a robust team of experts who can help you step up your research game. Get in touch with a research librarian to make your next project the best yet.

Written by Dakota Wright, Graduate Assistant to the Graduate School Office