Lesson S-8

Reference Librarians--
For Help When All Else Fails

Reference librarians can be very helpful when you don't know how to get started with a literature search, but that should not be a problem for those who have consulted Lesson S-1 and some of the intervening lessons of this web site. 

Reference librarians can also be a godsend when you have done searches, refined them, and still can't find what is needed or still get far more hits than you can examine. 

Most university students have several options for consulting reference librarians.  Each has advantages and disadvantages. 

First they can ask the assistance of whichever reference librarian is available when they go to the help desk.  That is worth trying, however, unless the librarian is the "subject specialist" in your field, he or she may not be able to solve tough problems.  It is impossible for anyone to be expert with all the search tools that are now available.  Consequently, most large libraries have the reference librarians specialize in a few broad fields. 

Second, students may be able to submit questions by e-mail to their reference librarians.  GWU students can do that by clicking at "Ask Us" from the bottom toolbar of the Gelman Library homepage or at http://www.gwu.edu/gelman/ref/index.htm.  If the student is having a tough problem, the query will probably be given to the subject specialist.  Despite that, this may not be the optimal strategy for a difficult search problem.  It may require several e-mails back and forth to determine exactly what you want to find and what you have already tried. 

Third, starting in Fall 2000, students can make an appointment for research assistance.  To do so, go to the Reference and Information Desk on the first floor of Gelman.  A session with an appropriate subject specialist librarian takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the complexity of the research problem.  Two advantages of making such an appointment are that it facilitates dialogue and also usually the student can watch the librarian try the search, often several different ways, and learn from that. 

The GWU Gelman Library specialist for the Graduate School of Education and Human Development is:
Janice Houck:        jhouck@gwu.edu  994-9863
Fourth, students usually can phone or e-mail the staff of the search system that they have been using and ask a human being for help with failed searches.  If you dig around enough on the web pages of search tools, you usually can find contact information for such help.  In the "First Aid" sections of  the Lessons for ERIC, PsycINFO, and ABI/Inform, there is information on how to contact expert help with those systems. 

Trail Guide

The following suggestions will assist you in securing quick and effective help when consulting reference librarians about failed searches: 

1)  Recheck Lesson S-1 and applicable Lessons S-2 to S-7 to make sure that you have applied the search strategies explained there. 

2)  Have a clear idea of what you are looking for.  Try to define it two or three different ways. 

3)  Keep notes of how you specified the failed searches and provide that information to the reference librarian. 

4)  Don't be surprised if the librarian needs several tries to find what you want.  This searching is part science and part art. 

5)  If you can, watch how the librarian does the searches and learn from his or her example. 

Other Gelman reference librarians whose special expertise may be needed are indicated below.  A complete list of the Gelman reference librarians is at: 
Business and Public Management 
Shumuel Ben-Gad     (202) 994-1353     shmuelb@gwu.edu

Children's Literature 
Marifran Bustion   marifran@gwu.edu

Legislative Affairs 
David Ettinger     (202) 994-1355    dettingr@gwu.edu

Museum Studies 
Liz Harter     (202) 994-1356   lharter@gwu.edu

Dan Barthell     (202) 994-1373  barthell@gwu.edu

Public Policy and Political Science 
David Ettinger     (202) 994-1355    dettingr@gwu.edu

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Last Update: October 6, 2000 Link to the George Washington UniversitySend feedbackLink to Education Policy Page