Monday, September 10, 2007

Research Librarians are the Superheroes of the Computer Age

by Julia Buckley
My favorite librarians: Molly Klowden and Sue Tindall.

There's always a time, even when one is writing fiction, that research becomes a necessity. I've had to research things for all of my literate life, and I consider myself relatively capable. But just as the folks in cartoons sometimes need to call on the help of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or some other caped crusader, so too do I need to occasionally call my own favorite superhero: the research librarian.

Why do I love them? Let me count the ways.

1. They are always cheerful. I assume that this is because they genuinely love learning and the acquisition of new information; that's why they went into the library game in the first place.

2. Nothing is too weird or obscure. I have asked questions about DNA, inheritance law, incest, conflict of interest, the history of Chicago, forgotten politicians--the list will go on forever (as I keep adding to it). But those wonderful researchers hop right on. Sometimes they say, "Hmmm! That's an interesting question. Let me look into it and I'll call you back."

3. They always call back. And when they do, they have information. Sometimes they'll even mail, fax or e-mail it to me, which is ultra convenient. Why do more people not take advantage of this service? Here are these wonderful people, smart, savvy, with books at the ready, willing to save us from our own ignorance. And it's never been easier.

4. They answer e-mails. Too lazy to use the phone? Research librarians have e-mail addresses, and all of the ones I've worked with will respond to queries sent via e-mail. Computers are changing the world in many ways--generally good ways. The fact that I literally have information help at my fingertips is, to me, something akin to a miracle.

5. They are everywhere! I have utilized the help of reference librarians at my local library, Chicago libraries, my university library, and the library at the school where I teach (see librarians above!) All of them have been quick to help and clever in the extreme.

6. They get it right. Research librarians are painstaking in their research, which is why they often want to call back. They won't toss you an off-the-cuff answer, but will do the proper thing: check and double check, comparing one source against another. In other words, they do what I should do but don't always have the time to do.

There are many more reasons why these librarians are my heroes, and I suppose the biggest one is that THEY SEE THE WISDOM IN SPENDING THEIR TIME IN A ROOM FULL OF BOOKS.

Three cheers for research librarians!


Anonymous said...

Ah, Julia, now I get to respond to YOUR blog. Thanks for the great library boost. No doubt librarians all over this land are copying your words to post on bulletin boards. As the ALA says, "In a world that's information rich, your librarian is information smart." Jeanne Munn Bracken, Reference LIbrarian, Lincoln (MA) Public Library

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Jeanne, for all you do. I'm thrilled to think I earned a spot on a library bulletin board. :)

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister.

My favorite research librarian is named Delores. The only problem I have with her is getting her to stop looking. The only way to get her off of one question is to ask her another. (grin)

Julia Buckley said...

Delores sounds great!

Rosemary Harris said...

James Lee Burke tips his hat to research librarians in his latest The Tin Roof Blowdown. I thought it was a nice touch...