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Career Advice

A librarian offers tips for your next trip to the library

Whether you are accessing library services in person or online, your librarian may be the ticket to more effective and efficient research and teaching.


Constant changes to the information landscape mean a continually evolving role for librarians. Yet, many faculty and graduate students may not be aware of how their school’s librarians can support their research and teaching. To shed light on some of the services you might be missing, here are a few of the cases that I have encountered during my career as a librarian.

Navigating the information landscape

Case#1: Heather is a new postdoctoral fellow in the department of neuroscience. She is starting a new research area related to music therapy in Alzheimer’s patients and is trying to use music databases for the first time. She is surprised to find that music databases work very differently from the medical databases that she is used to.

Expert searching assistance is a traditional service that librarians can offer. By requesting a one-on-one training session on music resources and databases with the music librarian, Heather can quickly learn how to use the new database and save valuable time. The librarian may even be able to assist with the literature-searching component of her grant application.

Case#2: Julie, a master’s student in medical imaging, stays current in her field by manually scanning the table of contents of new issues of the top 20 medical imaging journals as they are published online. She is frustrated that this takes a couple of hours of her time each month. There were also occasions where she missed one or two important articles as she was trying to do it too quickly.

While librarians are valuable in conducting some traditional tasks, they can also help to alleviate information overload. A librarian can help Julie set up email alerts or RSS feeds for those 20 medical journals, eliminating the need to monitor the publications manually. An even more efficient approach is to set up alerts in a database such as PubMed for specific research interests. Most databases offer the ability to save search strategies or be notified of new literature using topic or citation alerts. She will be notified about new articles as soon as they are available through PubMed.

Case #3: Ahmed, a master’s student in chemistry, came to the library asking for a specific thesis which was published in his department a couple of years ago. Apparently his thesis supervisor was not very happy with the first draft of his research proposal, as Ahmed had not read or cited research done by one of the graduate students in his department.

As a graduate student, Ahmed knew that he needed to conduct a comprehensive literature search before embarking on his research. However, he neglected to include theses and dissertations. A meeting with a librarian to discuss literature review strategies could avoid this kind of problem in the future.

Copyright and what it means for a graduate student

Case#4: Ming, an international student in computer science, is writing her thesis. She is planning to use one of the articles that she published last year with the scientific publisher Springer as one of her thesis chapters.

The problem with the above scenario is that Ming’s thesis will be pending approval by her defence committee because she neglected to get written permission from Springer. She did not know that the agreement she signed prior to publication gave Springer all copyright regarding her article. She needs to make herself familiar with copyright law in Canada and with Open Access initiatives because they impact the way she can publish and disseminate her work. She could have emailed a librarian requesting information about copyright, how the library supports Open Access and whether there is an institutional repository on campus, prior to publishing her articles.

Avoiding ‘Google fever’

Case#5: Lila is a teaching assistant in a second year undergraduate anthropology class. While she is marking the class essay assignments, she realizes that more than half of the students have cited Wikipedia in the literature review section of their assignments.

Most undergraduate students use Google as the number one source to locate information. It is easy, convenient, and particularly fast to use but the quality is questionable. Lila could ask a librarian to speak to her class about critical evaluation of resources they use in their assignments.

These are of course just a few scenarios where libraries can further support graduate students and faculty. I encourage you to talk with your librarians to learn more about how they can assist you with your research and teaching.

Nazi Torabi is a research and instructional librarian at the Allyn & Betty Taylor Library at Western University.

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