By, Lisa LaMont, Convention Specialist, SAGE
Roz Tedford is the Director for Research and Instruction Politics and International Affairs Liaison at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University. I met her a few years back as we worked together to plan a yearly event at the American Library Association Annual Conference in honor of our recipients of the Marta Lange/SAGE-CQ Press Award.
This year, she came to our offices to share with us what her job is like as she helps students and faculty do research. We wanted to learn a little bit more about her experience, so I asked her some questions below.
Q. At what point in the research stage do you recommend that students visit their research librarian?
We encourage students to come to us early and often. We can offer assistance in things ranging from choosing a topic to citing that last, tricky source and everything in between. So there is no one right time to come see us. Some faculty want a list of sources early in the process others want a rough draft, so depending on how the assignment is constructed we can see a student once or multiple times as their research progresses. Ideally, we want the student to remember that we are available at the point where they begin to feel uncertain or where they are struggling. I would say the ‘typical’ student here at Wake Forest comes to us about a week to ten days before a source list or paper is due with the ‘it’s due tomorrow’ student not as common as it once was – although I suspect that’s because the student who is likely to seek out a librarian’s help is not likely to be the one waiting until the night before to begin research.
Q. How do you recommend that students prepare for their initial consultation with a research librarian, if at all?
Again that depends on the assignment. It is nice when a student has cleared a topic with their instructor and has at least done some background reading because then we can get right into the meat of what their research process will be, but that is not required by any means. If a student needs to go do some homework and come back, that’s fine. It’s all part of the process.
Q. How do research librarians help students go from topic selection to research question? What are the features of a good research question?
One of our favorite things to do is to help students make this transition. I find that the best way to do this is simply to ask the student to tell me what they know about the topic or what interested them about it. Then I ask them any on-topic questions that come to my mind. Usually, in their answers to my questions they will come upon a thread that really gets them animated and excited and we go from there. A good research question is one that the student does not think they already know the answer to. ‘Why was Eisenhower the worst president in American History?’ is never going turn into as good a paper as ‘What were the factors that influenced Eisenhower’s approval ratings while in office?’ A good question is also one that can be answered within the parameters of the assignment. ‘What is the best way to achieve peace in the Middle East?’ is not going to be answered in a 10 page paper.
Q. Due to procrastination, some students do not have time to complete all the steps of the research process. For students with tight deadlines, how do you help them shorten or expedite the research process most effectively?
First and foremost they have to have a topic that is clear and that can be researched easily with the materials the library has on hand. Interlibrary Loan is not going to work if the paper is due tomorrow. Also, the topic needs to be simple and straightforward (can’t have three disparate topics woven intricately together if your paper was due yesterday). Really good search terms can also reduce search time very nicely. “Affordable Care Act” is much better than ‘Healthcare Policy” when you need sources and you need them quickly.
Q. The research process may be different in other countries. How do you provide extra support to international students?
We do a significant amount of outreach to our international students with sessions during summer orientation, after they are on campus and by encouraging them to take our for-credit information literacy course. We find they struggle the most with the American concept of plagiarism, copyright and citation. But for some, even the notion of open stacks is new. We really encourage them to come to us frequently throughout the process so they don’t have to absorb everything in one meeting. Depending on their level of comfort with English, I sometimes also point them to book and scholarly content that is aimed at undergraduates and that is not quite as full of theory, specialized vocabulary and high context language.
Read past Connecting with the Community interviews:
- Connecting with the Community: Eveline Powell on how to write the perfect essay
- Connecting with the Community: Wendy Naus on advocating for basic research
- Connecting with the Community: Matt Owens on obscure research that makes a big impact
- Connecting with the Community: Dr. Richard Gargiulo on writing textbooks
- Connecting with the Community: Angie Thorpe on the Discovery Experience
- Introducing “Connecting with the Community,” our new interview blog series