Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Other Side of the Reference Desk: A Writer Puts on Her Librarian Hat: Talking about Databases

I'm wearing both hats this week. In this post, I talk to myself (which happens frequently).

LibrarianNAN: Here's one of my favorite resources. Let's talk about databases...

WriterNAN: YAWN. I hate that word. It's dull...uninspiring. Who wants to search a database when they can search something fun like Yahoo and Google?

LibrarianNAN: It is a boring name. Sometimes, that makes it a hard sell to library customers. I've lobbied for a name change. I think a database should be called "an amazing collection of in-depth information that you can't find through search engines like Yahoo and Google -- and even if you could, it would probably be at those websites where they charge you for info and it would cost you a ton of money -- but you can get this info through your library for free." That's more descriptive, but it's a little hard to fit in the brochures.

WriterNAN: Er..yeah..right. So why do I need to know about these things?

LibrarianNAN: Not everything is available for free on the Internet. There are wonderful gems of info that...

WriterNAN: Wait. I thought you said it was free.

LibrarianNAN: For library users, it's free. Libraries pay major money for these databases. We buy them and make them available for our library customers.
But the information isn't free. It's often a collection of books, articles, issues of magazines and journals (in electronic form). That's why you can't find this stuff through regular search engines.

WriterNAN: Free is good. What can I find on a database?

LibrarianNAN: Let's say you're writing a story and you need information about the mating habits of butterflies...

WriterNAN: Ha! I know why you came up with that example. We just finished reading the incredible first story in Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times. It was wonderful and you're still haunted by it.

LibrarianNAN: If Laini Talylor came into the library and asked about the mating habits of butterflies, I'd suggest the databases Academic Search Premier (for some great scholarly journals on that subject) and also Science Reference Center.

WriterNAN: Hope you'd ask her to sign her book too. Alright. So databases have good info on butterflies, but let's say my main character is an 11 year-old who fixes lawn mowers.

LibrarianNAN: Try the Small Engine Repair Reference Center

WriterNAN: And what if my main character broke an antique flower pot and needs to know how much it would cost to replace it.

LibrarianNAN: The Antique Reference Database has prices for all kinds of antiques. You're still stressed out about the broken coffee cup this morning. Aren't you?

WriterNAN: It was early. I was pre-caffeine.

LibrarianNAN: From language learning to medicine to art to history --there's a database for almost anything. Our library has about 90 different ones. Take a look at our library's website to see the huge variety.

WriterNAN: But only cardholders for your library can use your databases. What if I want to tell my writing buddies about this. They live all over the country.

LibrarianNAN: Because of agreements with database producers, the databases are generally only available to cardholders of the library system. But so many libraries have them. Your writing buddies can check their own library's website to see what databases are available to them or they can ask their librarian.

WriterNAN: And if it's 2am, they can use one of those "Ask a Librarian" services that you talked about.

LibrarianNAN: I like your thinking. It's good to know we're on the same wavelength. The librarians at the 24/7 library services would be happy to help them.

WriterNAN: So are there any secret search strategies that you use when you search databases or is it similar to searching Google.

LibrarianNAN: You can pretty much search them the same way, but we librarians know a few secret tricks.

WriterNAN: Will you show them to me?

LibrarianNAN: Any librarian will show them to you. If you're ever stuck, ask them. But I'll talk about my search strategies in another post.

WriterNAN: Great. And maybe by then, we'll have pulled ourselves together.

(sorry for posting the wednesday post on problems)


cleemckenzie said...

Librarians are your best friends, and when they have a sense of humor (like Nan, one of my favorite librarians in all the world)they are doubly wonderful friends.

Please have more conversations with yourself.

nanmarino said...

Thank you! Thank you! (that's thanks from both of us)

MG Higgins said...

A 24/7 librarian service! How cool is that?! Thanks for the informative post (and for telling it in a funny way).

Stephanie J. Blake said...

In my next life I want to be a librarian.

nanmarino said...

Mel, if you ever give a 24/7 service a try, let me know how it goes.
It is fun, Stephanie. Hope you're doing well in your new career (which sounds pretty cool too).