Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tara Schmidt and those Clarifying Questions

Tara Schmidt introducing the session to the group

An important yet almost invisible time-stamp for AALCI occurs every year near the close of the Fellows' meeting with research services librarian Tara Schmidt. She has each of them mention their projects, and she and her co-presenter Juli McLoone, special collections librarian, begin asking follow-up questions that will allow them -- Schmidt and McLoone -- to better assist and direct the Fellows to appropriate library resources.

I've watched the exchange between Schmidt and the Fellows play out in 2010, 2011, 2012, and now in 2013. I have come to realize that the brief question session with Schmidt is a key moment for the Fellows to really start thinking about where primary and secondary materials concerning their projects might be located. Over the last four years, Schmidt is the first professional, beyond me in the classroom, who engages the Fellows in a series of questions, clarifying questions it turns out, about their proposed research projects in the early stages of those endeavors.

There's always considerable talk about mentors and mentorship, you know, how students and junior faculty and even early-career administrators and professionals need mentors. Agreed: mentors are important and conversations about why and how people need more of them are important. But too often the conversation stops there, and we hardly have an adequate label, much less a sustained conversation, about the added value exchange that results when someone other than mentors step in and ask series of clarifying questions.

My guess is that few undergraduates, graduate students, and junior and senior scholars have opportunities to hear and address those kinds of questions at the early, pre-abstract and conference paper stages of their projects. Each year, we have Fellows rethinking and refining their projects shortly after considering some of the clarifying questions that Scmidt poses. What would it mean if more scholars--at various stages of their careers--considered participating in such exchanges right as their projects were in initial phases?
AALCI 2013


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