Sunday, March 28, 2010

Defense Professionals Learn Their ABCs -- March 22, 2010

By Chris Vestal

It's no bombshell that military leaders and scholars have unique information needs. However, it is surprising to learn how similar their research process is to more traditional settings.

Librarians from around the country received helpful pointers in military research on March 22, 2010, during the Defense Technical Information Center’s 2010 Conference session, ABCs of Military Resources, co-sponsored by DC/SLA’s Military Librarians’ Group. Lily McGovern, a DC/SLA chapter member from National Defense University, and Greta Marlatt, from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, co-taught the session.

McGovern guided attendees through the process of conducting military research, quickly pointing out how similar it is to any other research process. “Techniques you’d use for any reference query can work in an area not familiar to you,” she explained. The first stage in the research process was the reference interview. Researchers need to pay careful attention to what military service the patron is interested in as acronyms could have multiple meanings across different service organizations. The next step is thinking about where you could find the needed information. McGovern recommended thinking about what organizations might collect or generate the needed information. For military or defense information, McGovern said using specialized databases is usually the best route to take. However, she also recommended using regular search engines and limiting results to .mil or .gov domains to cut down on the number of false drops. One interesting contrast to traditional research is that military information professionals may have to consider whether or not the requested information is classified or restricted in some way. The patron’s clearance level will affect whether or not the information professional will perform the research. If the patron has a high enough clearance the researcher may have to leave his or her regular work-station and search on a computer approved for viewing restricted information.

After attendees got a feel for how the process worked, Marlatt reviewed a myriad of useful specialized resources. These sources ranged from the webpages of libraries that are part of a military graduate program, to “think tanks” and even “WikiLeaks” (a wiki dedicated to encouraging and disseminating leaked information, According to Marlatt, when using any of these sources, searchers should explore them as much as possible, even the ones that say they are restricted access only. Marlatt explained that while many of them do have sections that are restricted or pay-only access, if you take the time to mine through them there is often quite a bit of freely available information. For example, she cited the RAND Corporation’s website ( where links to purchasing reports are prominently displayed at the top of the page, but near the bottom of the page you'll find links to view the same reports for free.

Following the session, attendees divided up into smaller groups and had dinner and lively conversation at five Old Town Alexandria restaurants.

To view the presentation with active links to all the recommended resources visit

Picture 1. Attendees signing in to the ABCs of Military Research:

Picture 2. Attendees enjoying dinner after the Military Research event in Alexandria, VA:

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