A Reference Librarian?

Step into Calvin College’s Hekman Library and the first thing you see is the Research Help Desk. Here, a student sits, or maybe a librarian, studiously studying a computer screen, an empty chair sitting in front of them, inviting you to come and receive “Research Help.” But, even though you have a twelve-page paper due tomorrow at eight am, you stride confidently past the Help Desk, plop yourself down in one of the more comfortable chairs, and set your feet against the vent that runs underneath the wide windows. Once settled, you pull your laptop from your backpack and turn to your trusty Google search for what you hope will be scholarly, trustworthy, and completely free research help. Little do you know; you have just ignored one of the greatest resources Calvin College has to offer: the help of our reference librarians. It is often said that ignorance is bliss. In this situation, however, ignorance could mean inefficiency, wasted time, and a much-less-than-stellar research paper.

What is a reference librarian?

The main question to answer: What do reference librarians do? For starters, reference librarians do not write references. Kathy DeMey, a reference librarian, says that reference librarians are there to “meet the needs” of “anyone who walks in.” They are ready and willing to assist you with any “library related” question, whether that question is simple or complex. As experts in “informational literacy,” their purpose is to help you find the resources you need. They will answer your questions to the best of their ability, and let’s face it — their ability is much greater than yours.

What are the benefits of working with a reference librarian?

Millennials cannot remember a time without the internet — they are internet natives. The internet has given them a false sense of confidence. Millenials believe that they have the ‘world at their fingers,’ an appropriate thing to say, given that you can access almost any source of information you wish, at almost any location, for free, or so you think. Ms. DeMey argues otherwise. Trustworthy articles and scholarly databases are not free. The articles that appear on a Google search are not the good, scholarly articles that are ideal for your twelve-page research paper. If you do happen to come across a good, scholarly article, don’t get too excited. Click the link and then look carefully. More than likely, you will see something connecting the article with Calvin College, whether it be the Hekman Library or Calvin College Theological Seminary. This information, which you believe to be free, is free to you only because Calvin College has paid a large sum so you can access it. These articles and databases are valuable resources, and if you do not know how to use them, you will not reap their benefits.

Some of the databases Calvin provides are so specialized that it could take an enormously long time to find what you’re looking for if you don’t know how to look for it. Ms. DeMey says that going to the reference librarians for help will “save you time” that would otherwise be lost in this blind search. Typing a keyword into a search bar is not sufficient, or efficient, if you are looking for good, scholarly articles. This is where the reference librarians come in. They will quickly escort you to the good materials that answer your research questions. They are experts in finding information, and know how to get you to the scholarly materials you need, but they can only help if you ask.

Why haven’t I heard about the services provided by the reference librarians?

You may not have known about the benefits of the reference librarians before now, a lack of knowledge that is not necessarily your fault, but simply a fault of the system. While Ms. DeMey did say that the librarians “don’t get into the department enough” to tell students about this resource, this ignorance is not entirely the fault of the librarians. They invite department faculty members to their meetings, where they discuss the sources available for the student’s research. They request to speak at department meetings, but with the tight schedules of the departments, it is difficult to fit them in the agenda. The library has assigned a librarian to each department at Calvin. This librarian is not an expert in that field, but is an expert in how to find resources that would be useful for a researching student. However, the students are all too often unaware of these services. Ms. DeMey says that the librarians often pose as “evangelists” for the library. In other words, they go outside of the library, and try their best to enlighten students of the services and knowledge provided by the reference librarians.

Research papers are time consuming, stressful, and as a college student, they can pile up until they become downright daunting. Don’t ignore a helpful resource. Whatever stage of the project or paper you are in, find your reference librarian. Ask for help before you get stuck, and in the end, you’ll be grateful you did.

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