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Make Life Easier: Ask a Librarian

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Librarians are superheroes

Librarians: they're like superheroes in that they save you during finals and have secret lairs. Image courtesy of Flickr user Monika Bargmann. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-NC-ND

The school library (or, if you're at a big school, libraries) are part of almost every college tour. Of course, in the age of digital information, the actual books contained in the library are no longer students' most important resource at the library -- instead, the librarians are.

Though often overlooked and under appreciated, librarians can make a student's life much easier if they're asked. Though your school may not have a program as intensive as Drexel's personal librarian program, where freshmen get their own librarian to show them the research ropes, even the most unassuming librarian has training to help you find out what you need to know. If you're looking for places to start, try these suggestions:

Instant Message a Librarian -- Many universities have their librarians set up on Meebo, a site-nested instant messaging client that became unexpectedly very popular with the librarian community. If your university has a Meebo setup, you can anonymously ask librarians a silly or embarrassing question (where is the science building?), renew a book without going to the library, or ask them to help you when a professor has screwed up putting a book you need on reserve. A smaller number of schools even have a "text a librarian" feature for when you're away from a browser. If your school doesn't have either of these services set up, the Alexandrian Public Library, Texas State University Library, and Emory University Library all offer chat widgets that you can use for non-school-specific questions.

Career Suggestions -- If your school has a less-than-stellar career services department full of old materials and staff who don't understand a post-Web 2.0 job market, get thee to a library. On a personal level, younger librarians may be useful to talk to just because they're young and typically approachable, and so they can help just by talking about themselves. But, even if they're a little older, librarians can help you find blogs about or internship opportunities in your desired field beyond what a career services person might be able to search for -- librarians, after all, essentially have a master's degree in information and so are very good at finding it out.

Source Help -- This is perhaps the most traditional of academic librarian functions: teaching undergraduates how to research. If you make an appointment one-on-one with a librarian, they can often teach you the ins and outs of JSTOR, help you craft good Boolean search queries for old-school databases, and suggest paths you might pursue given your research topic. There's no point in struggling along in a research paper unaided when you have access to free, competent research resources.

Club Sponsorship -- If your school requires a faculty or staff sponsor for your club and you're having trouble finding a faculty member who isn't busy or about to flee on sabbatical, make friends with the night librarians. First off, they're typically on campus when club meetings happen (especially if your library is open late). But, more importantly, they're often willing to help out a student organization in need with sponsorship, a space (after all, they have a whole library), research help, and advice. Plus, they often far less scary than faculty members.

College librarians are more than the shush-ers of old -- they're great, often tech-savvy and helpful resources.