by Edie Ching

NCBLA Teacher and School Library Recommendation:
Please feel free to print this article and make copies available for young people’s use in school and public libraries!

Your school or public library is one of the best places for doing research, as well as for having fun. Here are some pointers to help you make the best use of this resource and its resourceful librarians.

Keep your eyes open!

As soon as you enter the library, look for signs of any special programs or displays of new materials that might interest you. Librarians work hard to create, select, and promote these programs and materials. Introduce yourself to the librarian and tell her or him what your topic is. Your librarian is an expert at finding information and also in explaining to you what resources your library has available.

You might first be directed to the reference section. There you should find a variety of encyclopedias for all levels of interest and ability. One favorite is The World Book because it gives a good overview on each topic and it has section headings within a subject so you don’t have to read an entire article to find specific information, such as the geography of a country. This will help you frame your research questions.

There are also special works in the reference section that might cover individual topics, so be sure to look for these. For example:

Almanacs provide lots of statistical information on a wide range of topics from, for example, the Olympics to longevity.

Specialized dictionaries are on subjects such as musical instruments, biographies, and certain historical periods.

Do you need to use Primary Sources? Ask the librarian if there are copies of newspapers or magazines on file before you turn to the computer. Locate the biography books and remember that they are usually organized by the subject of the biography. Also ask your librarian to help you search in the library catalog to see if there are any collections of essays or letters that cover your subject.

Make sure to check the library’s online catalog to look for materials on your subject. Do a search by subject and make note of the books by both the title and call number so that you can locate them on the shelf. Also note if some of the materials you would like to use are in another format, such as an audio book or documentaries on DVD.

Ask your librarian about book review journals or online review journals such as Booklist Online where you might learn about books recently published that are not yet in your library. Your librarian can help you explore the possibility of an inter-library loan, borrowing necessary materials from another library system.

Don’t worry about asking too many questions—the more you ask, the better your librarian will be able to help you. The best advantage your school or public library has over the internet is your librarian who is your own personal guide on your hunt for information.

© 2008 Edie Ching: The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance