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4.3: Know your Library

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    Take a Virtual Tour of the TRCC Donald Welter Library

    It is likely that your college or university library consists of two parts. One is the brick and mortar building, often at a central location on campus, where you can go to look for books, magazines, newspapers, and other publications. The other part is online. Most good libraries keep a collection of online research databases which are supported, at least in part, by your tuition and fees, and to which only people who are affiliated with the college or the university that subscribes to these databases have access. 

    Let us begin with the brick and mortar library. If you have not yet been to your campus library, visit it soon. Larger colleges and universities usually have several libraries that may specialize in different academic disciplines. As you enter the library, you are likely to find a circulation desk (place where you can check out materials) and a reference desk. Behind a reference desk, work reference librarians. Instead of wandering around the library alone, hoping to hit the research sources that you need for your project, it is a good idea to talk to a reference librarian at the beginning of every research project, especially if you are at a loss for a topic or research materials. 

    Your brick and mortar campus library is likely to house the following types of materials:

    • Books (these include encyclopedias, dictionaries, indexes, and so on)
    • Academic Journals
    • Popular magazines
    • Newspapers
    • Government documents
    • A music and film collection (on CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs)
    • A CD-Rom collection
    • A microfilm and microfiche collection
    • Special collections, such as ancient manuscripts or documents related to local history and culture.

    According to librarian  Linda M. Miller, researchers need to “gather relevant information about a topic or research question thoroughly and efficiently. To be thorough, it helps to be familiar with the kinds of resources that the library holds, and the services it provides to enable access to the holdings of other libraries.” (2001, 61). Miller’s idea is a simple one, yet it is amazing how many inexperienced writers prefer to use the first book or journal they come across in the library in their writing and do not take the time to learn what the library has to offer.

    Here are some practical steps that will help you to learn about your library:

    1. Take a tour of the library with your class or other groups if such tours are available. While such group tours are generally less effective that conducting your own searches or a topic that interests you, they will give you a good introduction to the library and, perhaps, give you a chance to talk to a librarian.
    2. Check your library’s website to see if online “virtual” tours are available. At James Madison University where I work, the librarians have developed a series of interactive online activities and quizzes which anyone wishing to learn about the JMU libraries can take in their spare time.
    3. Talk to reference librarians! They are, truly, your best source of information. They will not get mad at you if you ask them too many questions. Not only are they paid to answer your questions, but most librarians love what they do and are eager to share their expertise with others. 
    4. Go from floor to floor and browse the shelves. Learn where different kinds of materials are located and what they look like. 
    5. Pay attention to the particulars of your campus library’s architecture. I am an experienced library user, but it look me some time, after I arrived at my university for the first time, to figure out that our library building has an annex and that to get to that annex I had to take a different elevator from that which would lead me to the main floors.
    6. Use the library not only as a source of knowledge, but also as a source of entertainment and diversion. I like going to the library to browse through new fiction acquisitions. Many campus libraries also have excellent film and music collections.

    The items on the list above will help you to acquire a general understanding of your campus library. However, the only way to gain an in-depth and meaningful knowledge of your library is to use is for specific research and writing projects. No matter how attentive you are during a library tour or, on your own, going from floor to floor and learning about all the different resources your library has to offer, it is during searchers that you conduct for your research projects, that you will become most interested and involved in what you are doing. Here, therefore, is an activity which combines a practical purpose of finding research sources for a research project with a somewhat more far-reaching purpose of learning as much as you can about your campus library.

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