Research: Choose Your Own Adventure

Research is like a choose your own adventure book – picking among multiple paths to see how it ends. To me, research is both fun and challenging. Fun, because I enjoy digging, reading, and seeing what I find. Challenging, because it’s hard to decide where to stop.

As I write the reference and access book, I discover more and more resources I wasn’t aware of. I’m reading historic books to familiarize myself with the development of reference services and how they were viewed by the profession. Being a good researcher, I frequently look at the footnotes. While I’m under no delusion that I know all the books and articles written about reference, I am surprised at how many cited sources I didn’t know about. It’s quite interesting and emphasizes how important scholarship has always been for the profession. One book leads to another, which leads to an article, which leads to a report, and so on. Hence, the “choose your own adventure” analogy. Theoretically, I know there is a finite number of sources published, but it’s difficult to see the end of the research trail.

However, there is a downside. I want to read everything, yet I know that is impossible. I went through this when I wrote my dissertation. My concern was (is) missing that crucial piece that when others read the book they’ll wonder why I didn’t include it. That’s an emotional reaction rather than a logical one.

Intellectually I know that I can’t, nor shouldn’t, include everything written about reference and access. It is a huge topic and I will drive myself crazy if I try to include everything. Keeping the readers in mind, I want to provide a breadth of resources they will find helpful while not being overwhelming. Not all of these references need to be citations, but could be in a “further reading” section.

I wish I had the magic formula on finding that balance. At my job, I frequently help students with research and often warn them about doing too much research. Advice that I need to take myself. It is hard to decide how much is enough. For example, there is general consensus of the importance of access throughout pretty much all historical scholarship. So, how many citations are enough? Is it worth including not just the usual players but some of the more obscure and lesser-known archives manuals and writings?

Right now, I’m still in the early stage of writing. I’m following the citations, getting items through interlibrary loan, and reading much that I’ve never read before. The choose-your-own-adventure I’m on is fun, albeit time consuming. I’m nearly to the point where what I read is pretty repetitive, which is one way to know that I’ve read enough about that particular topic (though I’ll still probably read more). My other practice is to force myself to stop and finish writing that section. Then as I write, questions will arise and I’ll notice gaps, then do more research to fill in where necessary. Luckily, I have many more research adventures to go.

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