This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 23, 1992

September 23, 1992 - Reference workshop

Admit it. When you were in school, you always put off doing your research paper to the last night.

And what happened? You did a lousy job.

When anyone talked to me about this when I was in school, I thought they were just yelling at me. Well, okay -- they were yelling at me. So imagine my surprise to discover: doing term papers is actually a useful life lesson.

Especially in the work-a-day world, there are often real deadlines, just like term papers. There's a big gap in your knowledge about some topic. You need to figure out what you really need to know, track down a goodly body of information about it, whip the raw data into shape, then polish it until it's presentable.

When I was in school, of course, I never approached the problem like that. I did what everyone else did: mainly, put all my effort into ... waiting till the last possible instant. Then I just yanked, more or less at random, whatever I could find off the shelves of the local library, took some hasty notes, then shuffled them into -- voila! -- a term paper.

Sometimes - not often - you can get away with that at school. But on the job, it's a lot harder. You wind up making bad decisions because you just don't know what you're talking about. Worse, you do something that brings harm to somebody else because, well, you didn't do your homework.

But the best thing about working in libraries is that I have finally learned just how easy it is to do good research. All it takes is (1) correctly defining what you need to know in the first place, (2) giving yourself enough lead time to do the job right, and (3) having a system.

Now that I'm pushing 40, I think I'd make a pretty good high school student.

On September 24, Jeff Long, reference librarian at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, will be giving a workshop entitled "Beyond the Encyclopedia: Library Research Time-Saving Tips." The workshop starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free to the public.

I highly recommend it, not only for those students who still haven't figured out a good strategy for doing school research papers, but also for the business people, who need to do topical research all the time, but have not yet grasped what the library can do for them.

Jeff has put together a good outline for the whole research process: how to pick a subject, how to tackle the world of library reference materials in a logical and efficient manner, and where to go from there.

Jeff will also provide a chart to help you decide what kinds of reference materials are likely to be most useful to you, depending on the topic you've selected. This can save you lots of time.

Altogether, "Beyond the Encyclopedia" can take some of the pain out of the never-ending battle against ignorance. So you might want to mark this one on your calendar.

Why wait until the last minute?

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