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I don't know about you, but I get intimidated by the most trivial things in life. Making idle chat with the barista behind the register. The awkward silence exchanged within a crowded elevator. Finding my own way through the library.

Whether we share the same fears or not, I know a lot of other students feel that third woe. Navigating Columbia and Barnard's extensive library system is intimidating. To resolve some of the most pressing challenges in utilizing the libraries for academic and research purposes, I asked for some input from Jenna Freedman, an amazing Barnard librarian with a specialty in Women's Studies.

Getting over the shock

Bibliophobia. A fear of books.

Now, I don't have bibliophobia or anything like that, but I was at a loss when it came to the library. I wasn't sure if there were certain books I could or could not touch, or if things were sorted by the Dewey Decimal system. (Fun fact: Melvin Dewey was Columbia's chief librarian from 1883 to 1888.) I've been in New York for six months and I've gone to Butler once … during NSOP.

"I understand the intimidation factor," Ms. Freedman sympathizes, "Barnard and Columbia offer a sometimes dizzying array of research resources."

The resource you’re not using, but should be

It may be obvious, but many students too often ignore the availability of the library staff. For Barnard students, Ms. Freedman advises, "My number one tip is to connect with your Personal Librarian. We developed the Personal Librarian program specifically to support students through the research process. We want students to feel like they've got a partner in the library!"

While Columbia does not have the exact equivalent to the Personal Librarian system, they still have a vast network of librarian subject specialists to assist with research questions.

How to actually work with primary resources

Also known as primary sources, or maybe the shot to the heart of every research paper.

I've heard some people complain that, when writing a paper, they always walk out of the library with a tower of books, most of which will be forgotten during the process of their research. It's in getting started where we too often run into trouble. "Our subject [BC; CC] and course guides [BC] are meant to help students figure out where to start, and to highlight the top resources."

As for the overly-dramatic "shot to the heart" notion, Ms. Freedman advises, "Working with primary sources can often be difficult, but our archivists are incredibly helpful and inject joy into what can be a challenging experience. Also, keep in mind: navigating a challenging assignment is satisfying. That part might not be fun, but it's how you learn."

Books beyond the bubble

Outside information. No, not "outside" as in random Google searches and Wikipedia pages with questionable edits. Literally outside our bubble of Morningside Heights.

"The BorrowDirect network is awesome. It's basically a shortcut to interlibrary loan, allowing students to access materials (usually books) from some of the United States's most powerful academic libraries (the Ivies and other institutions including MIT) in four working days instead of two weeks. You have the books for up to six weeks and can renew them once – so nearly a whole semester."

Far from dread isle

The on-campus libraries, the university's finicky Wi-Fi, the whole world: they're not all out to get you.

Considering this, it seems only natural that you should be able to find some enjoyment in the libraries. Ms. Freedman's favorite section, for example, is Barnard's new books collection. "There are about 1,000 circulating books in LeFrak so far, which represents all the titles we've acquired and processed since July 2015."

And a diverse community will yield a diverse selection of titles.

"I love looking at the collection because in one glance you can get a sense of our weird and wonderful holdings. Nearly a ninth of it is women's studies, there's a whole shelf on dance, lots of art history books, and some of my personal favorites – about a shelf full of lesbian fiction, I borrowed two LGBTQ YA books just today."

Another unique component of the Barnard Library is the Zine collection, which Ms. Freedman also manages. "A zine — short for fanzine or magazine — is what you might call a 'punk rock' self-publication. Zines are written with a peer audience in mind, and many of them are informed by the same principles of intersectional feminism that infuse much of Barnard's curriculum."

But don't "self-publication" fool you. Zines are quick little pockets of power that you should really consider utilizing in your research. "They cover a huge range of subject areas, and the zines in our collection are written from points of view that are default queer, intentionally of color, and politically engaged in all sorts of ways."

Too many choices

We have options and a lot of them. This is both a blessing and a curse: a curse in the beginning that becomes a blessing only as we discover the hidden nuggets and treasures.

So considering this, there's only one thing I can advise: Talk to your librarians. They'll tell you all of this and more.

A huge thank you to Jenna Freedman, the fantastic zine and personal librarian at Barnard, and Stephanie Browne of Barnard's media relations. Jenna Freedman can be found in 111 LeFrak.


All gifs courtesy of giphy.com

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