Monday, September 08, 2008

Creating a list of works cited? Ask a librarian BEFORE you start!

I keep forgetting what an amazing resource professional reference librarians can be, but then life rises up to remind me.

Of course, being a good introvert, I started work on my new book alone in an upstairs office. Zzzzzzt! Shoulda asked a librarian. After spending hours compiling a cut-and-paste bibliography and remembering what a mess it was to advise a fellow faculty member on how to format hers for the University of Pennsylvania Press (they wanted Chicago style, and hers were all MLA-from-memory, many with typos), I started searching online for endnote software. I found several competitors, and began to get excited. The best ones not only format your notes in whatever professional style you request (changing formats at the touch of a finger), but they also collect the data from online research resources directly, without you having to re-type a thing. They can even use full-text resources online to provide you with archive .pdf copies of articles. Amazing.

Thinking I was hot stuff, I started to sign up for one of the most popular of these. Then a tiny voice inside my mind whispered "Have you asked a librarian yet? Maybe Georgetown's library professionals have already solved this problem." Hmmm. First I sent e-mail to my friend Jill, the Humanities Reference Librarian in Lauinger Library. Jill and I have known each other since 1997, but still I often forget to ask her questions in a professional capacity.

While waiting for Jill's reply, I fuzzily remembered that the library probably already had answers to questions like these listed. So I looked at the Research Help tab on its home page, and voila... a link to RefWorks that the university supports and has already signed up for. There's a free tutorial available either at the library or in my office (I'm going to the library as a fun excuse to take a break). By the time I found the answer, Jill had gotten back to me confirming that yes, that was the answer. Oh, why didn't I just contact Jill weeks ago?

Total time I spent futzing around with my own cut-and-paste bibliography: about seven hours spread out over several weeks.

Total time I spent search for endnote software online when I thought there must be a better way: about one hour earlier today.

Total time it took me to find the answer once I consulted the library's research resources: one minute, rendering my e-mail to Jill redundant/unnecessary.

Um, next time I'll check online to see what the library offers instead of trying to re-invent the wheel all alone, and if I don't find it, I'll ask a librarian.

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