Librarians and Magic

lithograph

Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, including hat trick and levitation. 1899. Magic Poster Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In the Spring semester I received many e-mails from students who needed help with research, and several asked of me: “work your magic.”  My first reaction was, “Aw!!! They value what I do.”  Next, I thought, “Magic?! I wish.”  Research can be a complex, mysterious and messy process.  Students may think librarians have magic tricks up their sleeves (well, sometimes we do) but oftentimes helping students takes work and lots of time.  I worry when responding to student e-mails with suggestions that they think I just whipped up some magic answers.  I sometimes have to spend hours of searching to steer students in the right direction, or I have to reach out to my colleagues in the field.  If students think research is magically easy, they may not persist in their own searches when they do not succeed right away.

Behind the Magic: Librarians and Professors Reveal their Secrets for Successful Research

That title, or something to that effect, is my idea for a series of videos that would include interviews and other content from librarians, archivists, and professors that demystify the research process.  While I do get a kick out of hearing students call what I do “magic”, I want students to understand what goes into the research process, and a lengthy e-mail to them that explains what I do will not suffice.  This idea for a video series first came to me when I started working with students in a Historiography class.  Putting together a historiography can be a complex process and explaining the various methods students can use to find appropriate sources can be difficult to explain.  The same can be true for finding primary sources.  It would be great to collaborate with some History faculty on a series of videos that explain what it takes to do research in this field.  It could include interviews with historians and have them explain what process they went through to conduct their own professional research.  I could also see this working for political science students with finding data.  What I would most want to expose would be the messiness of research – a realistic portrait of what goes into the process (and not just how it should work but how it actually works), from Google, to librarians and other information networks, to library resources and beyond.  The more we talk about and share what we actually do, the better we can help students, and honestly, help each other as professionals.

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