For those not trained in science, the prospect of answering a "science" question can be intimidating, but you'd be surprised how much you can do with easily understandable tools.
You may have several helpful science books in your library - perhaps a general science dictionary or encyclopedia, or even more specialized sources like a biology or chemistry dictionary or text. You can also turn to world almanacs or general English language dictionaries and encyclopedias like WORLD BOOK (which is particularly helpful for understandable explanations). As always, magazine articles can be of great help. And don't forget the children's books in your collection. They are terrific for explaining difficult concepts in simple ways and for finding illustrations.
The WORLD BOOK has a series of Reading and Study Guides in the index volume that is very useful in helping students who are writing papers. The Guides suggest topics for study and books to read on about 200 subjects. Each guide is in its alphabetical place in the index and there is a separate index to the Guides in the front of the volume.
A word about indexes in encyclopedias. It is tempting to rely entirely on finding things by the alphabetical arrangement of articles, but you will help your patrons locate the information they need and find all the articles dealing with aspects of a general subject IF YOU USE THE INDEX. For instance, World Book's entries under First Aid include 18 specific techniques, as well as related articles on Antiseptic and Red Cross Safety Program.
Like legal and medical information, science information changes daily. This is an area where knowing the date of your source and being sure the patron knows it, is very important. It's good to get in the habit of reminding patrons that this type of information gets outdated quickly.
One thing that can be tricky in science questions is dealing with a very knowledgeable patron who has a technical question that you can't understand. Try to make an effort to understand yourself what the question is all about, just as you would with any other reference question. Don't be afraid to admit to the patron that you don't understand. Then use common sense, and if it is likely you just won't be able to fully comprehend the question, it might be one of those rare times to ask the patron to write the question out. Then you can refer it, and with luck someone at the other end will understand it. If not, the librarian who works on it finally may ask you for permission to talk directly with the patron.
The McGRAW-HILL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY has more than 7500 articles written by subject experts. If your library owns this set, you can provide more comprehensive answers than are available from general encyclopedias or scientific dictionaries. It is also a good source for titles of books on a scientific subject your library may not have anything on. Check the bibliographies at the ends of the major articles. The last volume of this encyclopedia contains the Analytical Index, Topical Index, and Study Guides. The topical index groups the 7700 articles under 79 general headings. This is handy for helping a patron find the specific aspect of a general subject that is wanted. Under Computers, for instance, there are articles on Data-processing systems, Videotext and teletext, Microcomputer, and Artificial intelligence, among others.
The analytical index gives detailed subject access to the encyclopedia. Many subject headings have subheadings. The subject Flower has 35 headings under the main subject entry: Pollen and Anatomy are examples. Information your patron wants may be in several locations, so do take advantage of the detailed index. (The bold face numbers refer to volumes and the italic type to the page numbers.)
The Study Guides provide detailed outlines of six major scientific disciplines and relate encyclopedia articles to each discipline. By following the guide, the patron is led through relevant articles in a logical sequence to ease understanding of the discipline.
There is a very useful section on scientific notation in this last volume. It discusses the International System of Units (Sl) and has charts of the units, conversion factors, symbols of chemical elements and other symbols used in scientific writing.
The questions are designed to give you some practice using what science tools you may have as well as reviewing what kinds of science information you can find in general sources.
The SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ENCYCLOPEDIA published by the University of Chicago Press is a small, comprehensive encyclopedia with more than 6,500 entries and over 250 black and white illusrations. It has more than 20,000 cross references. Its short articles are approached from more than one discipline.
There are more than 850 biographies of scientists, engineers, and inventors. It is easy to use for biographical information.
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