I Hate Science Projects! But….

By Mike S. 

There’s no use pretending. I HATE science project questions!!!

My main gripe is that some kids fail to get the idea that a science project is about comparing different processes, methods, variables. The research literature you need has to do with what is already known about those variables, not about your particular combination of variables.

An example:

The voice on the phone says: “My daughter is doing a science project on daikon radishes. We need five books on daikon radishes.”

I confirm that they want books on growing daikon, not cookbooks. I discover that our catalog shows nothing on daikon, so I say, “Tell me a bit more about the project topic.”

“Well, she’s doing something on organic versus inorganic fertilizer.”

AHA! Now I know that the actual project is a comparison of different methods of growing daikon. It doesn’t matter if we find anything at all on daikon.

Browsing organic fertilizer found only one at our branch which was checked out, but 13 at various other branches. On a hunch, I searched for full text articles from our online science databases. That found several dozen hits. The mom was excited to learn that she could even access these articles from home.

Happy customer. Happy librarian.

Of course, the real point here is that science project questions are among the greatest challenges with regard to doing a really effective reference interview.

To me, the primary characteristic of trained librarians is that we are Professional Searchers. And the key to being a professional searcher is being able to help the customer figure out what she actually wants.

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