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Value of the Library

Georgia Harper, the Scholarly Communications Advisor at University of Texas has a wonderful and short story of the value of her library (full story). In short, the question is "What added value do library resources and librarians have over an internet search and the experts at WikiPedia?" And before I begin, a disclosure. I am a librarian, so...


Let's start with the obvious. The library has spent millions of dollars on information and media resources to support the the specific curriculum and research of the JMU community. Fine-tuned collection development has created (and is creating) a collection that meets the individual needs of JMU professors and students.

Not only that, but these resources are all vetted in some way. Many are created by experts in a specific field for experts in that field. Many more are peer-reviewed or "refereed" by experts in their fields and provide information that, while maybe controversial, is credible and authoritative. And many more are selected by librarians who are assigned to a discipline in order to acquire and teach the best resources in that discipline. To see how to evaluate resources see Go for the Gold Module 6.

Can you find authoritative and credible information on the web? Absolutely! But the library brings these together in such a way as to allow you to manipulate, use, and see multiple points of view relatively easily. How do we do that? Metadata. What? Metadata--the "hidden web" Georgia Harper mentions in her story. Metadata is the "keywords" that you don't see. It normalizes the jargon within a discipline and provides a common context to similar information. And this isn't just metadata that anyone supplies. This is metadata that has been developed by experts across the nation and sometimes the world to allow searches across multiple data silos. Google doesn't have this and the internet community is just now realizing how important controlled metadata is (just google "metadata google" and see the number of news stories about it).


Librarians know Georgia Harper's "hidden web." This is where we live. Anyone can search a few terms on the internet. Anyone can read a basic WikiPedia article (heck, almost anyone can write a WikiPedia article). There is value in that. But the specific discipline knowledge of Librarians will get you into the deeper end of the information pool quicker and safer and allow you to balance multiple points of view.

But maybe more important is the training Librarians get on "interviewing." How many times have you tried to ask someone (a friend, teacher, or parent) a question and just haven't been able to get the answer. There is some disconnect between the way you ask the question and the way it is received. While we don't talk about it much, almost all librarians are trained (we have classes) in the "reference interview". We understand that you don't always know the technical terms, or jargon appropriate to a particular discipline. Sometimes you don't even know the right question. More times than not, when you bring a "hard" question to a librarian, you find that it is actually the "wrong" question. We know how to get you to the right question. So ask...We'll get you there.