Information Management: Tricks of the Trade

As my senior thesis project continues, I find myself thrust into a sea of information; diving deep into the past works of successful scholars and analyzing their work in careful detail.  The work I am doing challenges me to find common threads that have an impact on my own work.  Often times, I’m reading the recommendations from many different past researchers and writers.  I find myself asking “how am I going to keep this all together?”  Of the teachers and mentors I ask, “What kind of tools and skills can be offered to undergraduates that must learn to master information management?”

Dr. Julie Dyke-Ford, my teacher and advisor, has assigned us great exercises to help hone skills in information management.  As we narrowed down our topics, she had us find a subject relevant to our topic and search for related journal articles.  From that search we created a small annotated bibliography.  Later, we found a single article and wrote a detailed review.  Eventually, we created a detailed annotated bibliography for our thesis.  With each exercise, we found more sources for our thesis work.

The days of students venturing into the library, getting lost among the pages of journals in dark basements, and turning dusty pages in neglected textbooks are waning.  University libraries now fill hard drives instead of shelves.  Interlibrary loan is accomplished through email and Ethernet.  This explosion of information offers students great opportunities but can also pose new challenges to students who can find themselves lost in various search engines and overwhelmed by information.

As students, we often find ourselves in classes where we are expected to do a bit of research for a paper.  Often times, instructors assume we know how to look for that research. We limp through the library looking for information, desperately fishing through search engines late at night in the glow of a monitor.  The value of correctly using libraries and librarians has always been important.  Because of their value, Dr. Ford invited our Library Director to our class to teach us how to use the latest tools in the library.

Learning to use the library again was valuable as library science and information management are more important than ever in the Information Age.  As software, policies, and licensing agreements among publishers change, the only consistent factor is the librarians in the library.  Librarians don’t know all the answers researchers are looking for, but they do know where to find them.  Great librarians, possessing an advanced and continually expanding knowledge of information management tools, are dedicated to ensuring that researchers have the resources they need to succeed.

Dr. Ford put an emphasis on building an annotated bibliography.  While the bibliography is not part of the formal submission of either the thesis or the thesis proposal, it became very clear that this document carries extreme importance.  As my list of sources grew, I understood why.  My library research gave me over thirty sources with relevant information mingled with other information that was not nearly as relevant.  Building the annotated bibliography allowed me to keep important notes as well as pertinent quotations I wished to cite close at hand.  I decided that using software to assist me in building the bibliography was the best option.  I opted to use an online bibliography program, because I often use as many as five different computers a day between home and school.  This is one of the best tools I could hope for, allowing me easy access to all of the references I needed for my thesis.

Each of the new “tricks of the trade” learned while preparing to write my thesis is something that is useful in both the academic and professional world.  Teachers and mentors supply students with important skills that will be vital in their present and future successes.  It is important to question what skills will be passed on.  As the second month of the project winds to a close, we begin the transition of turning library research on our topic into the proposal we will write in the third month. That proposal will serve as the foundation upon which we will build our thesis.

Travis Daniel Griffin is pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Technical Communication at New Mexico Tech and plans to graduate in May of 2013.  After working eight years as management in an international restaurant company, with locations and offices in Japan and California, Daniel relocated to New Mexico to attend school at New Mexico Tech and work as a web developer and programmer in the IT department at EMRTC, New Mexico Tech’s premier explosives research and training division.

Travis Griffin would like to thank Mr. Rex Pyle of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, who holds a Masters of Library and Information Science, for his thoughts and insights on this contribution.

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