The tale of one information counselling session
Author: Ingrid Polis
It was the end of a normal working day when my e-mail box notified me of a fresh request. This time, the question was in English and related to our digital archives’ database DIGAR.
It was not so much the language of the question tat was extraordinary, given that we’ve conducted information counselling in English before, and once in Russian. Instead, the enquiry was really interesting because the English-speaking client wanted to examine a database with Estonian-language content. In any case, the question was quickly answered and a selection of different meeting times offered. I made sure to ask additional questions to clarify the topic and the existing research experience, because thorough preparation always leads to a smooth and effective consultation.
The agreed meeting at the National Library (RaRa) revealed that the client was a student of a foreign university who was interested in Estonian history and wanted to look for information in the digital archive of our library to address the topic of his choice. It turned out that he had been studying Estonian for some time. Together, we reviewed the search options in the portal DIGAR Estonian Articles. In addition, the Estonian Subject Thesaurus helped him to continue using the online catalogue ESTER.
The opportunity of independent research
This is the main purpose of information counselling – to give the client the tools and opportunities to search for information independently.
Once the meeting has been agreed and the topic specified, we will review together how to choose the keywords suitable for the search, which search tips to use and which sources (databases, web resources, etc.) would be most effective for a search on the particular topic. The client then has the opportunity to continue the search independently. Searching for materials is also one of the necessary skills to acquire in the course of research.
Information counselling as a safe route to world databases
The largest number of counselling sessions held at the National Library of Estonia cover the fields of economics and law. People ask for more general information-seeking tips on the topic, such as personnel or financial management, but also quite specific aspects of criminal proceedings or contract law. There are also several enquiries in the fields of sociology, literature, art, music, cartography, etc. As the old saying goes – there’s no harm in asking, and we are ready to listen to everyone and find the best solution. We have also helped out with, for example, providing guidance on the quality of lumber, the emotional health of teachers and the search for sources on spruce bark beetle.
As we also carry out counselling via video, it is not unusual to receive questions from outside Estonia. The most exotic countries have been Colombia and Japan, but via video we have also been to Finland and Sweden. However, these have been Estonians abroad who enjoyed the opportunity to get answers to their questions in this way.
The counselling sessions are conducted in all areas covered by the National Library: history, cultural sciences, folkloristics and ethnology, cartography and geography, Estonian language and literature, linguistics and literary science, art, music, theatre, film, information sciences, economics, the European Union, international organisations, sociology, law and politics. Our information specialists provide help for orienting yourself in the databases of the National Library. The client does not have to worry that their questions will be heard by bystanders, as meetings at RaRa are held in a room specially designed for information counselling.
Supporting students along the way
Information counselling at the National Library is a free service that can help all of us. Yet it can be of particular help for students who are short of time. For all students in need of a helping hand with academic endeavours we have developed a “student support package” consisting of three services. In addition to the information consultations, it supports students with the RaRa research portal and tips for googling at an academic level.
The main hero of our story, the foreign university student interested in browsing the DIGAR database, took one simple and common trick from the meeting: using quotation marks to search for a phrase. Try it yourself! For example, write the “student support package” in Google’s search box, add “RaRa” and you will end up in the right place!
You can benefit from an information consultation if you
- are writing a research paper or a thesis and need help finding books and articles on the subject;
- want to learn how to use different databases or find out more about library services;
- want training for students/professionals on how to find specialist information.
Register for an information session using this form below and we will contact you to arrange a convenient time. The consultation will take place on-site at the National Library or by video and is free of charge for all those who wish to attend.