I recently had the pleasure of writing a post about some topic modeling research I did for a Digital Humanities class I took last year for our fellow library blog LibParlor. If you are interested at all in how one may attempt to apply topic models to a large corpus of text or how failure can help drive the research process I thoroughly suggest you take a few minutes to read it, but if you are not do not worry I am not going to regurgitate the entire post here. Instead I am just going to share the most important lesson I learned from the research project at the heart of the post. A lesson to do with resources.
I am lucky enough to be a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison through whom I have access to more information that I am really able to comprehend. There is rarely a time when I find a book or an article I can not access immediately, and even when that rare occurrence does happen I have never had to wait more than a week to receive the resource via loan. Because of this glut of availability I will admit to becoming a bit spoiled. It did not occur to me that there would be information I would want but would not be able to access. My topic modeling project showed me just how wrong I was. My project group and I ran up against problems getting access to the information we needed to complete our project more than once, and we could not find a way around them using any of our typical resources. There were no library databases or catalog searches which were going to provide us with what we wanted. Thankfully those are not the only resources which exist in the world.
It may just be me, though I doubt it, but my time in library school left me so enamored of the amazing resources available through the library that I had developed rather strong tunnel vision about how to find things. This is not surprising, nor do I necessarily think it is a bad thing. I, and the rest of my project group, were studying to become a librarians, so it should be no surprise that we had developed such a strong preference to using library resources for our project. Our issue was not the preference for library resources, it was failing to look outside of the library as well. Thankfully, even though we were not smart enough to look beyond our traditional library resources we were smart enough to mention our problems to our instructor who was smart enough to know we needed to go beyond the library. Once we started to look beyond the library with the help of our instructor we were able to connect to other resources available through our University such as GeoDeepDive and the Center for High Throughput Computing which were absolutely integral for us finish our research project.
Please do not be like me. Do not forget that while your library is amazing, and definitely deserves to be your number one stop, there are all sorts of different resources out there which you may not find unless you look beyond your library. This is true whether you are pursuing your own research agenda or answering a reference question from a patron. In fact I would argue knowing what exist beyond the library is nearly as important for a librarian as knowing what exists within. This means we librarians and library students should be having conversations with ourselves and with non-librarian communities on campuses about the projects different groups have developed and how these resources can be used in order to aid others in their research goals. You never know what awesome tool you never knew you had available to you until you look.
(Photo of the Seattle Public Library from Peter Albert Hess on Flickr)