Monday, April 20, 2009

reference-phobia

I just had a breakthrough. I realized I've always had a fear of research papers, compounded by a heavy wariness of all things reference. Seriously. My pulse quickens a bit to just think of accessing information needed to adequately understand (and write about!) any given topic. Of course I do blame my k-12 education for this. Having been educated for 13 years in "open" programs, I literally did not know how to write a paper when I got to college, and nearly failed all of my freshman english classes as a result. I shudder when I think about Professor WhatsHerName's diabolical essay topics in Shakespeare 101. Yet by the time I graduated college I could whip out a 10 page paper on Atilla the Nun in Late Antiquity (definitely NOT her real name, I can't remember an iota of that woman's life, but I found her fascinating at the time). 

What happened? I discovered the internet.

And probably used it very poorly.

Research via the internet saved me. I passed my liberal arts courses, and my fear of reference was abated somewhat. But the fear still lingered, because I felt as if I had cheated somehow. My google-search based paper had earned me a B, but I had no way of knowing if the information I had accessed online was legitimate or not. Thankfully my nun paper was on a woman so obscure nobody would have bothered making anything up about her, and Wikipedia had yet to be invented. 

Now as a media specialist I am thrilled that I can show students a much more reliable source to find obscure and not-so-obscure information. Trustworthy information. And free to all Minnesotans. 

Seriously.

ELM (the Electronic Library of Minnesota) has essentially compiled all those stuffy, dusty, scholarly journals into one (relatively) easy to access from your La-Z-Boy via laptop location. Any topic that has been written about is catalogued in ELM's databases in some form or another, and with your MN library card number, you can find it, or at least find where to find it. You can often download a PDF of applicable articles (perfect for procrastinators) or read abstracts of pertinent articles which are fairly simple to get via interlibrary loan (just ask your local librarian for help with this one) if it's not easily available. 

Check out Elm4you.org be you scholarly, or research-phobic like me. Click on the Help link on the left, and then check out the Tutorials for a quick run-through of how the ELM databases work. 

There is a lot of information out there. Thank goodness someone had the sense to organize it for us.