When I was in Library School, the research model that made the most sense to me was Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process, and that’s because she included the emotions alongside the actions. In that model, the Mucking About I talked about in Part 1 would fall under Selection and Exploration. I definitely have apprehension and anxiety when I realize I’m going to need to do research for a project (Initiation), and that gives way to optimism and excitement and I move into Selection. For me, though the “confusion, frustration, and doubt” don’t come back while I’m in Exploration. For me they rear their ugly heads during the stages she calls Formulation and Collection, and which I call Drilling Down.

Drilling Down can be satisfying, but it can also be frustrating as you chase down leads that don’t pan out.  In The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill there is a scene where Hazel is sent to the store to pick up some groceries. She also wants to get some more tuna for her makeshift fall out shelter. So, in order for this scene to work, I needed to know how much a can of tuna cost in 1953. A simple question, I thought, but after hours of searching the web and databases on my own, I ended up using the Ask A Librarian program of the Library of Congress. That librarian was able to help me find a pricing index which allowed me to make an educated guess on the price of a can of tuna. The problem is that the answers for these Drilling Down questions can be so hard to find. I am a librarian, trained in search strategies, and I was tearing my hair out; our students are bound to get frustrated, too.

The other problem with Drilling Down is the anxiety that I am missing something. I always worry that I’ve overlooked a resource, which probably comes from coming of age when resources were scarce and difficult to locate. And missing resources or information has happened to me. The underlying conceit of The Water Castle is that the Fountain of Youth is in Maine, in a mythical town called Crystal Springs. So, imagine my dismay when, shortly before publication, I read “The Norumbega Effect” by Jaed Coffin in Maine Magazine. It included this bit of Maine history of which I’d been completely ignorant:

Back in the 1500s, volleys of European explorers came back from Maine with tales of a land not only rife with fish and beaver pelts, but also overflowing with milk and honey, full of silver-adorned men and women, where the streams bubbled over gold nuggets and mystical elephant-horse creatures. Norumbega they called it.

Whether I’d made Norumbega a major part of the town’s history, or simply a side note, it would have added to the story — and I missed it.

Worse than missing a source is missing the fact that you have an area to Drill Down into. Shortly after ARCs of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill went out my editor received an email from a librarian questioning my inclusion of a mircofiche reader in the town library. This librarian noted, microfilm (the rolls) was the earlier format, before microfiche (the cards). She also wondered if a small town library would have it in the 1950s. The small town part was easy to fix. I had a wealthy character in the book who would be a likely donor. But I still needed to go back and check to see if the librarian was right and if I needed to change from microfiche to microfilm. Long story short: I did. The point of this anecdote is that I hadn’t even realized this was something I needed to check and you can’t answer a research question if you don’t even know there’s a question to be asked.

I think it’s in this phase where students get the most overwhelmed, and where they are most likely to give up. So it’s in this phase that gentle hands and kind support are most needed from the teacher or librarian. If it helps, tell them that even published authors struggle with this type of research. In fact, for part three, I’ll give a few more words of encouragement for you and your students.

Research in Action Part 2: Drilling Down

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