Monday, May 31, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill

News is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from a variety of media. You can keep yourself up to date with newspapers, TV (including 24 hour news networks,) radio, Internet, and news delivered to your cell phone. Despite this information inundation, it can be hard to figure out what's actually going on and decide for yourself what to think and do about it.

An example is the current Gulf Oil Spill crisis. It's easy enough to find out what news anchors and political pundits are saying, but it's harder to know the science, business deals, and politics behind the polished press releases. That's where good research skills and access to a library become useful.

Empire State College Library Research Blog
Questions? Ask a Librarian

Monday, May 24, 2010

New York State politics

If you live in New York, chances are you've heard about and have some strong opinions about what's going on in Albany with the budget process. Here are some links to help you stay informed and make your voice heard.

Stay Informed
Make Your Voice Heard
  • New York State Senate - At the upper left of the screen is Find My Senator. Enter your address and zip code to find out who your senator is and get their contact information.
  • New York State Assembly - The third box down on the right side of the screen is Member Search. Enter your zip code to find out who your assembly member is and get their contact information.
  • Contact Governor Paterson

Questions? Ask a Librarian

Friday, May 14, 2010

Services the library doesn't provide

We get a lot of questions and requests actually should be directed to another part of the college.

Textbooks and coursepacks
If you are looking for the readings assigned in your course or study, we don't have them. They are available for purchase from the Empire State College Bookstore. You can call 800-847-3000 ext. 2365 or you can go to If you are looking to save money, you might want to shop around the used book sellers on the web as well - just make sure you get the right edition of your book!

Writing help and sample essays
We don't have any examples of the kinds of essays and assignments your instructors want, but the Writing Resource Center does. Go to They also have a paper critique service. If you study at one of the regional centers, contact them to see about in-person peer tutoring or writing assistance.

You can access the college's online tutoring service at If you study at one of the regional Centers, you might also consider contacting your Center about whether they have peer tutoring available.

Details about assignments
Only your instructor can answer questions about when an assignment is due, what the expectations are, or what something means. Instructors often have their own vision of how something should be done - even something as seemingly straightforward as citing your sources - and we can't guess. There is no substitute for direct communication with your professor.

In addition, librarians can't help you with any of the "creative" or "original" aspects of your assignment. For example, we can give you guidance on how to narrow down your topic, but we can't pick a topic for you. We can show you the best places to look for sources and the best techniques for searching, but we can't say which articles and books to use.

Technical support
If your login isn't working or something is wrong in your course, we don't have any way to help you, but the Service and Support helpline is available for that. You can go to to access their Knowledge Base or fill out a request form, or you can call 800-847-3000 ext. 2420.

Questions that we CAN answer!
We are here from 9am-9pm Monday through Thursday, 9-5 on Friday, and 1-9 on Sunday to answer all your questions relating to the research process and how to use the Library and its various databases, tools, and services.

Use our chat window at or call 800-847-3000 ext. 2222. (If you don't receive an answer right away, we are helping another person and will get to you in a moment.)

If you prefer to communicate by e-mail or it's after hours, go to and fill out the help request form. We are happy to help you and will get back to you within an hour or two during our online hours. Otherwise we will get back to you early the next business day.

The library is part of an ecosystem of services that are available to you. We work hard to coordinate with the others so that you can get your education with minimal hassle and wait. Please don't hesitate to contact us for help as soon as you need it!

Empire State College Library Research Blog
Questions? Ask a Librarian

Monday, May 10, 2010

Managing your time in research projects

Writing research papers is a complex, arduous task. They provide you with a learning experience and provide your instructor with a way of assessing your performance in a number of areas: subject mastery, organization and planning, information gathering, critical thinking, and communication. There are two keys to succeeding at all of the above.

The first key is time management. While it may seem impossible to write five or ten or twenty pages in the next few weeks, you will be able to do it if you proceed methodically and step by step. The Assignment Research Planner is one tool to help you do that. All it does is give you the dates by which you have to have each step of the process completed. Note that the Assignment Research Planner is from another library, so some of its links direct you to their resources. When that happens, just go back to the Empire State College Online Library.

The second key is getting help when you need it.
  • Ask A Librarian if you have a question about using the library or doing research
  • English Language Learners has help and support for you if English isn't your first language.
  • SmarThinking offers tutoring services, including help proofreading and critiquing your paper.
  • Writing Center Assistance is also available. This site will direct you to a person to contact, and there is also a link to a website full of writing exercises, sample papers, grammar help, and more.
Research papers are never easy, but they can be a positive experience. Start promptly, work methodically, and get help when you need it.

Empire State College Library Research Blog
Questions? Ask a Librarian

Monday, May 3, 2010

Fact-checking and evaluating logic in information sources

Whenever you evaluate an information source, you should not only check it for timeliness, reliability, authority, and perspective (see last week's post) but also for factual correctness and strong logical arguments.

To check facts, go to a known and reputable reference source. The Library provides access to hundreds of high quality online reference materials through
You can also check facts against other reliable sources like your textbooks.

Checking the logic of a source's arguments is a little more difficult. There are dozens of kinds of logical errors that an author can make, and some of them appear to make sense, at least if you're not paying close attention.

Some common types of logic errors, or fallacies are:
  • appeal to authority - "Aristotle said the sun revolved around the earth, and Aristotle was very wise, so he must be correct."
  • ad hominem attack - "In the early 20th century, the medical industry conducted experiments on minorities, so you can't trust doctors when they say that swine flu is caused by the H1N1 virus and not by a government plot."
  • appeal to ignorance - "I can't imagine what else those helicopters could be doing, so they must be spying on citizens."
  • circular argument - "The oracle says she speaks God's word, so we can't question the Oracle."
  • appeal to consequences - "If you believe that human beings evolved from a common ancestor with apes, then you believe that human beings are animals, so you don't believe in human rights."
  • appeal to popularity - "Everybody knows that the more powerful a computer is, the bigger it is." (Everybody did think they knew this back in the 1960s.)
  • sample bias - "99% of survey respondents say second-hand smoke doesn't cause health problems." (If your survey respondents all work for the tobacco industry, you might get that result.)
  • begging the question - "When children are possessed by frog demons, they show symptoms that mimic common childhood ailments."
You get the picture. This website is an excellent place to learn about different logical fallacies and confirm whether you've spotted one "in the wild":

Empire State College Library Research Blog
Questions? Ask a Librarian