Back to the Basics in Researching

As a reference librarian, I worked with many library patrons who would ask where they could find books on specific subjects. I would show them how to find possible sources that could answer their questions.  Sometimes they would come back with a narrowed subject.  Then, we would look at other sources that could answer their more focused questions.  Other library patrons would take the sources presented to them and take the information from those sources as the only answers that they could find.  The library patrons who kept asking questions were developing their skills on how to be more effective in reading comprehension.  Unfortunately, the patrons that left with what they had, without further focusing on their subjects, would come back with questions for other subjects and keep asking me for the sources with the answers that they needed.  They did not learn from the first reference interview how to conduct basic research.  I wondered how I could help the novice researcher to be more effective in researching their questions.  I found 6 steps that could help.


There are actually 6 steps, which I have discovered, to be essential to help the researcher to be more effective in reviewing sources they had found.  These steps are based on a supportive network between library patron and librarian.  This could also be used in the supportive relationship between records manager and archivist (

  1. Define how you seek information;
  2. Determine what information you need;
  3. Determine how you will get that information;
  4. Decide what information you want;
  5. Select the answer you need;
  6. Decide how you use your chosen information to answer your need.


To introduce the 6 steps, I have compared the research goals of the library patrons by comparing them to a researcher in a case study (  This researcher uses the 6 steps by getting her support system (in this case, her family) to help her figure out answers to questions that she has asked.  The way she answers the questions have helped the novice researcher to understand how to search for sources in their subject areas.


The novice researcher could be: an information literacy student; an undergraduate freshman in developmental reading; first year library student; colleague from a non-library/archives background.  The case study is a fun way to help the novice researcher identify with working out problems through collaboration from within a department or class.


This emphasizes a supportive network that could exist in any work environment.



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