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Advantages of the a research help desk

By Polina Potochevska

Section: Features

September 29, 2017

Being a college student usually means a lot of homework, some of which will inevitably include writing a research paper or two (or more). For those who have never had to write one before, or even those seasoned pros who might need a bit of guidance, the research help desk in the Goldfarb section of the library is the perfect place to go.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, the library had 5,373 reference interactions, which include answering any research questions at the help desk or more general questions about the library, and also in-depth consultations made by appointment. Laura Hibbler, Manager of Library Instruction since August 2015, spoke with The Brandeis Hoot about the importance of research and the ways in which the library can help students with research related questions.

In her role, Hibbler provides research and instructional support to students, from first year students who need help with their UWS papers to Ph.D. students, answers questions for faculty and staff, and along with other librarians (there are about 11 who help with the department of research and instructional services) may lead workshops. Some of these are for a specific class, and others are open to anyone.

Each librarian working at Brandeis has different subjects of expertise, so students that need help with History, African and Afro-American Studies, American Studies, East Asian or South Asian Studies can come to Hibbler. She explained any of the librarians are happy to help students, but “if it gets to a certain level” of intense research, then they can recommend the student to the librarian with most experience in that subject.

Hibbler said that some aspects of research are “easier now than they used to be 20 years ago” given the availability of online resources, but there are a lot of different challenges now such as “being overwhelmed with search results, or not knowing where to start.”

The research help desk can provide students with “search strategies,” like understanding how to pick the best keywords and refine your results online using the different specific databases.

They can also assist with finding unique sources that may only be found in a few libraries or brainstorm new ways to search for sources when a student’s individual research is not coming up with results. This can be difficult to do in the initial stages of research since there are many different kinds of databases, some are subject-specific while others are multidisciplinary, such as JSTOR. There are also databases that are made up of images, or data sets from various studies, as opposed to just journal articles. Brandeis has a budget specifically for the library to decide what databases the university can use.

Aside from electronic sources, librarians can help locate print sources, such as books or items from the Brandeis archives and special collections (like senior theses and microfilm) Hibbler called these sources, “a really important arm of library research services.” While the older materials may seem intimidating, Hibbler said students do not need to be professionals to use them, and there are some valuable materials only available on microfilm.

The research help desk can also assist with interlibrary loan system, which allows students to check out books or articles from other libraries if the Brandeis library or database does not have them. The loan website will show a catalogued list of where sources can be found, and there is a form to request material.

The process is best to do ahead of time for an assignment, Hibbler advised, as articles can take around a day or two to deliver online, and a physical book can take one week to ten days.

Since Brandeis is a member of the Boston Library Consortium, Hibbler said that students with a BLC member card can check out books from other schools and libraries in the consortium, and then return them to the Brandeis library, which simplifies the process for those students who find themselves around the Boston area frequently.

The research help desk is open for walk-ins 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and the online chat service found on the Brandeis Library Research Help website is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students can also sign up to make individual appointments with a research guide, which is advantageous because the librarian will know what the student needs help with and can give more specific help.

Research can seem scary, but there are many different ways to get help with research papers or other projects, from the very beginnings of the brainstorming process to check the amount of primary and secondary sources in your paper.

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