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Research Consultations Offer Opportunities to Tap Librarians’ Knowledge and Skills

By BTL on April 11, 2017 11:11 AM | Permalink

Can you help me find this patent? Where can I find information on attitudes towards the HPV vaccine? How were the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights viewed during Colonial Times? Can you help me with researching my dissertation topic? Where can I find a systematic review on whether or not wearing ultraviolet-blocking sunscreen prevents melanoma? Can you help me find a source for public opinion polls? Where can I find city, county, state, and national data on foster care youth and the challenges they face? How do I perform an analysis of state government Twitter feeds? Where can I investigate how African Americans are portrayed in television dramas and situation comedies?

These wide-ranging topics and questions are all examples of research consultations offered by a UNLV librarian in recent months. Research consultations are one of the key services provided for students, faculty, staff, and other researchers by UNLV librarians.

A research consultation is a personalized appointment set up in advance with a librarian to find information or data. Consultations may be related to a course assignment, research project, thesis or dissertation, grant, a topic of interest, or might be a time to learn more about library resources. These personalized sessions enable a researcher to work one-on-one with a librarian to explore a research topic, create a search strategy, develop skills to search library databases, learn to use tools like RefWorks or Mendeley, or peruse the literature for a specific discipline.

A professor suggested that Jessica Deberardinis, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and kinesiology, contact engineering librarian Sue Wainscott to set up a research consultation to learn more about biomedical engineering literature and build her research skills.

“I found it incredibly helpful,” she said. “I developed a relationship with Sue, who also connected me with [health sciences librarian] Xan Goodman because of the medical aspects of my research. It’s like having a librarian or two devoted to helping you with your research. The librarian helps support your work and learn more about the literature of your field. It’s a nice complement to what your advisor does. And it was fun, which I didn’t expect.”

Deberardinis is now in the process of getting a review paper published, and credits the help she received from Wainscott.

Once a research consultation is scheduled, the librarian will contact the researcher with any questions to better understand the needs and goal of the appointment.

“A request to locate information about X often leads to discussions about different types of sources like handbooks, articles, conference papers, or more specialized resources, such as standards, data sets, technical reports, and granting agency information,” said Wainscott.

If the consultation is related to a course assignment, the librarian may seek out the assignment criteria to provide strategic advice on the best to approach to locate the right information and data. Librarians often consult with students who are trying to identify a topic for a research paper or project, noted science librarian Michael Luesebrink. He has assisted students with identifying a topic, formulating a research question, devising a research strategy, selecting databases, and finding high-quality, appropriate sources.

In addition to asking questions, the librarian will conduct test searches using various search strategies to see what resources are available to help the individual. In some cases, the librarian will use reference sources like specialized encyclopedias and bibliographies for additional background knowledge. Whatever the inquiry, librarians work with the researcher, and may also consult other librarians, to help find the information to answer the question.

Librarians generally also follow up after the consultation, sending search terms and suggested search strategies, library and Web resources to use, and links to specific resources to the individual via email, while also checking on the progress of the search.

“Usually what happens with my appointments is that we agree to meet again in the future if needed and I let our users know that I am always available to meet with them,” said Goodman, who conducts research consultations in-person, via phone, email, and virtually using AdobeConnect.
Research consultations are an opportunity for librarians to establish a relationship with researchers and help them to develop research skills.

“I find that the research consultations I perform are more about building confidence than anything else,” said Amanda Melilli, head of the Teacher Development & Resources Library. “Almost all of the undergraduate and graduate students that I work with feel like they are ‘doing something wrong.’ The main message I convey is that research can be challenging, messy, time consuming, and often frustrating. Validating and normalizing the struggles they are going through helps to alleviate anxiety and gives them the ability to be open to learning research strategies and tips.”

Just as the topic of each research consultation is unique – and perhaps challenging – the nature of the consultation varies by librarian and by discipline.

“My consultations with students regularly end up in the stacks. Students feel more comfortable finding articles on their own, but many times the experts in humanities fields present their interpretations and evidence in books rather than in journals,” said humanities librarian Priscilla Finley. “It's common for us to locate book reviews in academic journals online and then go upstairs to take a look at those books.”

Urban affairs librarian Susie Skarl has assisted undergraduate students with finding sources, research strategies, and brainstorming topics.  She also consults regularly with upper division undergraduate and graduate students on research assignments, Capstone projects, and thesis- and dissertation-level research. Additionally, Skarl works with faculty on research projects and grants, as well as with investigating potential publishing venues.

Lionel Stoxstell, a graduate student in social work, wrote to Skarl recently after a consultation, “I want to thank you, Ms. Skarl, and your research consultations at the Lied Library, for all your true care and concern for the UNLV student body. I have been told about the experiences other classmates of mine have had and through your kindness and wealth of knowledge, we are all better students.”

For librarians, it is most important that the researcher leave feeling that they have information and can complete their work.

“I always make sure the student leaves with the resources they need and the confidence to do research on their own,” said fine arts librarian Kate Lambaria.

Sometimes the topic might be challenging to find for a librarian, but not for long. Teaching and learning librarian Kate Wintrol recently helped a student trying to find information related to Charles de Gaulle and China. After only finding a lone article online via library databases and GoogleScholar, she turned to books and located several titles on French foreign policy and a book with all of de Gaulle’s speeches and press conferences. This provided the student with the documents needed for the assignment.

Research consultations are a service available not just to UNLV students, faculty and staff, but to local residents and scholars as well. Business librarian Patrick Griffis often works with members of the business community who seek out his expertise in creating business plans.

“My consultations focus on competitive intelligence research and market research,” he said. “Basically, research on markets and industries as well as on competitors and customers.”

The nature and topic of research consultations are always considered private and confidential. The type of research inquiries asked by library users, as well as the materials they use or check out is considered private information by library and university policy, and library professional ethical codes. All references to consultations in this article are used with permission of the researcher.

To schedule a research consultation, visit the University Libraries research consultations webpage.