Ask a Librarian: now virtually everywhere!

Same research help, more ways to get it: now find us on Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a girl detective. Always ready to detect clues, ask questions and follow hunches, I longed for mysteries to solve. The schoolgirl sleuth is often pictured in the act of enquiry - shining her flashlight into the darkness, brow furrowed, reflecting on the clues until the pieces fit together. I never unearthed any school holiday mysteries, but the thrill of the information hunt never left me. An inquiring mind helps me in my work every day.

Reader, I grew up to be a reference librarian at the National Library’s Ask a Librarian service. I’m a member of a crack team that unites information with the people who need it. When you send us a question, we won't just tell you the answer, we'll show you how to find it. Tell a person a fact, and they'll just have one fact. Help a person to research, and they'll be able to learn forever.

Our free Ask a Librarian service answers hundreds of questions each month from anyone who wants information about Australian topics or the Library’s vast collection. We can spend up to one hour researching the answer, but our well honed problem-solving skills and librarian radar lead us to relevant resources pretty quickly. I've included examples (with clues!) of the kind of questions that people send to us in the pictures below.

 "I'm looking for a knitting pattern from the 1950s..."

Smart cardigan in five sizes,The Australian Women's Weekly (29 July, 1953), page 35 (detail). Hand coloured. nla.gov.au/nla.news-page4383695

There are lots of ways you can contact us. We're always on duty in the Library's reading rooms - come and have a chat about your research. Or if you have a quick question, phone us, Tweet it or post it on our Facebook page. The great thing about answering research questions via social media is that it can help other people who have a similar question.

  "For reasons that defy logic, I need to know the protagonist's name in the "Naked in the boot" (sic) by Gordon Clive Bleeck. Can you help?"

Cover of Nude in the boot [1954], by Australian author Gordon Clive Bleeck (1907-1971). The National Library has the only library copy in world. The tweeted research question was referred to us by @Austlit

If you have a vexing research mystery, fill in our online enquiry form. You can use the form to provide background information about where you've already searched, and exactly what you need to find out. I’ll search high and low for you, but the more information you can provide, the more focused my search will be.

 "Where can I find an Explanatory Memorandum?"

Bound volumes of Bills of the House of Representatives, Commonwealth of Australia. nla.cat-vn776511

And now our Ask a Librarian services have come to Wikipedia. If you're a Wikipedia editor who wants to improve any of 126 000 Australian-related articles by tracking down a reference, you can find a link to our Ask a Librarian service, and the equivalent service of other State libraries, on the Talk page of those articles.

Talk page (detail) of the Wikipedia article on Darwin, Northern Territory

Talk page (detail) of the Wikipedia article Darwin, Northern Territory, showing links to the Ask a Librarian service.

This exciting new trial - the first of its kind in the world - is provided by National and State Libraries Australiasia and supported by the editors of WikiProject Australia (with special thanks to user:99of9). Wikipedia editors know the importance of using reliable sources to improve articles, and that the most authoritative sources aren't always available online. Our Ask a Librarian team can help you uncover verifiable information, so you can have confidence in the references that underpin your article. Trying to track down some particularly elusive source material? We can help you add dimension and detail to your article by shining a light on Australia's cultural record in our unique collection items. 

By making the Ask a Librarian service more accessible to Wikipedia editors, we are helping to make authoritative information about Australia available to the world. You can read more information about the project on the WikiProject Australia/Ask a Librarian documentation page. We've already received some great questions from Wikipedians - the kind that really let us apply our trademark librarian rigor. We look forward to receiving many more, and seeing your articles flourish!

If you're a bit of an amateur sleuth yourself, why not register for a free Library card and log in to a wide range of licensed academic databases from home?

 

 "Did Gauguin visit Australia? What evidence is there?" An extract from a newspaper article, "Shipping arrivals. May 8" (9 May 1891) includes Gauguin's name highlighted in the passenger list

Seascape (detail) [19--]. nla.pic-an13724404  Shipping arrivals. May 8, The Sydney Morning Herald (May 9, 1891), page 8 (extract). nla.news-article13823948

What do I love about providing the Ask a Librarian service? That I’ve helped someone who can’t visit the Library to access the same information as a person who’s in the reading room; that I’ve helped you find a way to work through a research puzzle; and that I’ve given you the tools to become a confident researcher in your own right. And once you become a fearless researcher, you’re more likely to happen upon serendipitous discoveries, which will prompt you to ask new research questions. When I answer your questions, whether they are big or small, I imagine you embarking on that journey.

Not sure where to start your research?  Stuck somewhere along the way?  Ask a Librarian.

 

[Edit: The Wikipedia newsletter The Signpost has published its own story about this project]

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Comments

Comment: 
Love this post!! You all do such an amazing job with Ask a Librarian, it's brilliant you'll be helping even more people by putting your detective skills to work for Wikipedia (and therefore the world)!!
Comment: 
Thank you, Lucy! When people ask us questions, we learn so much, too. It's mutually enriching. And we can't wait to help more Wikipedians - ricochets of knowledge!
Comment: 
When hurricanes struck, people took shelter in the courthouse. The schools weren't safe enough to be used as shelters.

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