A Media Specialist’s Role in the Research Process
When settlers from the East planned to “go West,” they faced many challenges. Becoming hopelessly lost was likely. Starvation was a possibility. Floods threatened total destruction. Settlers needed an experienced guide to lead them to their destination.
When students begin research projects, they face similar challenges—although the challenges are intellectual rather than physical. They can become hopelessly lost as they try to follow Internet links from one site to another. They can be starved for good information. They can be flooded with note cards that contain bland and useless facts. Students need a guide. They need a school librarian who can lead them along the trail of solid, meaningful research. The librarian must understand the student’s assignment, assist with locating helpful resources, and know the basic processes for writing a research paper.
Understanding the student’s research project assignment requires conducting a reference interview. In the Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science by Joan M. Reitz, a reference interview is defined as “the interpersonal communication that occurs between a reference librarian and a library user to determine the person’s specific information need(s), which may turn out to be different than the reference question as initially posed.”
The key to this interview is good communication initiated by the librarian. Before any exchange of information takes place, an “attitude” exists. “How the student perceives his or her question will be received” (Riedling) contributes to the overall tone of the interview. The librarian must provide an atmosphere that is comfortable for the student to seek information. In addition to the physical surroundings, the librarian must use both verbal and nonverbal skills to encourage the student. According to Riedling, nonverbal strategies include “physical gestures, posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, and eye contact.” The media specialist must ask open questions and practice active listening, while utilizing other verbal skills including “remembering, restating, paraphrasing, closure, and inclusion.”(Underdown) The librarian must determine just what sort of information is needed and the depth that is required. The process is accurately summed up by Riedling’s statement “that a successful reference interview is one in which the student feels satisfied that you have given personal attention and accurate information.