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The more I see this type of question, the more I wonder why there isn't a general answer: namely, the library.

When I was in school, I always went to the library whenever I wanted to research something. So did all of the other people I went to school with. Many of us in the same class went to the library as a group. Has the advent of the internet made libraries something that aren't considered an obvious resource for writers who want to research a particular subject? Are Google and Wikipedia causing people to give up too quickly? Shouldn't the library be the first place for anybody to look whenever they want to seriously research something?

Just once, I'd like to see a question like this start along the lines of "I went to several different libraries, but I wasn't able to find exactly what I was looking for. I discovered some good general information—but I'm missing something specific . . ."

But, more than that, it seems that almost all of these questions could be answered in the same general way—and possibly marked as duplicates of the same general question.

Or do we really need to have a separate question for each area of research?

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Back in the early 1990's, when I was a graduate student with an academic email account, we had a brief moment (starting in the late 80's) where the internet was filled with people who had training in how to research and enjoyed it and talked to each other about it. We also talked about silly things, and there has been online porn and trolls since long before the word "internet" was even invented, and the whole process was pretty exclusionary. At least the online community was small and not central to the life of a community.

Then there was AOL. AOL brought the internet to a lot of people who didn't have access via work or higher education. That's a good thing, but it did change research pretty quickly. In 1990 I started an email mailing list for a health issue which had a general name. Let's pretend it was about a specific circulatory condition and I named it "heart."

I had school children email me all the time saying things like "my report on the heart is due tomorrow, tell me everything about how the heart works." I got at least a couple of these every week (not all as urgent, but every one as vague). I would tell these children about the wonders of the library, a place with librarians who were not only trained in research techniques, and trained in how to teach them to children, but who got paid for their time.

They were all insulted. How dare I tell them how to do their research? Can't I just answer the question? Many wrote back to explain that their teacher had required them to reach out on the internet for information and that my email was on the list of potential sources.

I had a few conversations with teachers as well. Because seriously. Not only was I not paid for this but my expertise was in the very specific "circulatory" condition and not in how the heart worked (nor was there much medical information about the specific condition; this was a support group). If I were to answer, I'd have to go to the library and look it up myself.

Other companies sprang up and the internet got a lot bigger. I still got "do my homework for me" queries but not as many, as there were more people to ask. Then the world wide web got going and people didn't have to ask individuals for information, they could just read it on their website.

Libraries still exist and they're still fabulous. They have trained librarians who can find anything. These folks have masters degrees in library science; they aren't just scanning books for checkout. Every school has its own library and every community has a public one.

Maybe.

I'm in a well-funded semi-rural county in the United States. No, we don't have nearly enough money for schools and other public services, but compared to a lot of places, we're in good shape. In some more rural places, getting to a library is not easy. In a lot of places they're not open that many hours (until we passed a bond a couple years ago, even my local library was closed Sundays and Mondays and only had one day a week when it had hours past what it would take for someone to come after work).

A lot of people don't have cars and public transportation is slow or non-existent. Or the open library is quite a drive. Taking a couple hours out of a day to go to the library for a few minutes only to find that the book you need has to be requested from another branch so you have to come back...way more than a lot of folks can deal with.

And I'm only talking about the United States, or other countries with similar funding for libraries. Elsewhere, there may not be public libraries at all.

My family goes to the library every week. We have a nice one 2 miles from home. But even I do most of my research online. For quick questions, I Google. For more complex ones, I read multiple websites. I do use books but I mix that research up with the sites. Books can be out of date and also tend to be more general.

Now, I agree with you that too many people crowdsource instead of doing their own research. Maybe the library isn't the right place but there are websites for everything. They should at least do some basic searches before asking other people to do it for them.

I assume this recent question is the one led you to write. It's closed at least. I realize it's a trend, but there aren't that many questions like it.

So yes, the answer to all of these questions is: Go to the library, search for websites, if it's specialized try online journals, and ask people you know in person. And if anyone else writes in with a broad question like the one above, having done no previous research, we should close it, comment if we feel like it, and move on.

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  • The recent question you linked to is indeed the latest in the trend that finally had me write about this. It didn't really matter what the subject was, I just thought to myself, "Really, again?" – Jason Bassford Aug 27 '19 at 18:03
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    @JasonBassford Yeah I get it. The subject doesn't matter; the real question is "I can't be bothered to do basic research, who wants to help me?" – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 27 '19 at 18:18
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I thought a guideline of Stack Exchange questions was that one was supposed to indicate one's prior attempts at answering it, if possible.

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  • Over on Worldbuilding, I would often VTC questions that obviously hadn't done any research (and comment to that effect). I was told by experienced users that this was a reason to DV but that lack of research in and of itself wasn't a reason to close. Now, that is not a universal opinion because I have seen others VTC for lack of research and sometimes it's sustained. At least there it was not the case that research was required. Now on History, I think they're a lot pickier and require the research. I personally don't consider a question ready for prime time without at least some research. – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 28 '19 at 16:49
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    I think it's a bit of a grey area. It depends on the specific site and on the specific question. In theory, I agree. But it can be difficult to know for sure in certain contexts. – Jason Bassford Aug 28 '19 at 23:14
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Q: Do we need a separate question for each area of research?

Yes. That is exactly one of the uses of a Q&A website.

Q: Why don't you go to the library first?

Honestly, the library is the last place where you would want to conduct research today. On top of that, asking the librarian sounds a lot the same as asking on SE without having done any prior research, with the drawback that you rely on the knowledge of a limited pool of not-necessarily-specialized people.

Of course, that holds true unless the idea of going to the library is to get on a computer and browse in search for answers: the number and vastity of online tools, articles, essays, commentaries, Q&A websites, and simply the wikipedia references list at the bottom of any wikipedia articles is simply overwhelming compared to the books that any library (library of Congress excluded, perhaps) currently has. Not to mention that the trend is still growing in complete favour of online resources.

In addition to this, it is a provable thing (I mean, with a theorem) that under reasonable assumption, crowdsourcing can provide answers that are far better than each and any of the starting source materials, and each of the contributors, and also far more robust to the biases of each separate source.

To the question "where do I learn about X?", crowdsourcing can provide a very extensive set of resources, together with reviews of the resources, and sometimes even original research, which would not be available otherwise.

I still feel you should do some homework!

The freedom not to answer is yours. As well as the freedom to ask what they have found so far. In the end, if you still feel you are being unfairly squeezed for your knowledge, you can always try the passive-aggressive stance of https://lmgtfy.com/

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Sometimes the answer to "how to find out about X" is "Google it" and "Wiki it". In those cases, it's clear the person asking the question didn't even start doing their homework.

In other cases, finding what you need isn't as trivial. Consider finding out about some criminal activity, or finding out about something related to sex without getting flooded with porn, or finding out about day-to-day details of a profession. Those are cases where "going to the library" won't give you the answers, and "googling it" could reasonably require help with picking the right search terms.

In those situations, I see nothing wrong with asking for pointers. Not "do my research for me", but "point me to how I could find the information I need".

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