Sometimes we forget in this age of Web research that we can actually ask an expert for help. There are plenty of places both on and off the Web that you can tap into to find expert help for any kind of research topic that you can think of.
Types of "Ask an Expert" Sites
There are two types of "ask an expert" sites. The first consist of specialized Web sites maintained by subject experts, who will provide detailed and specific responses to your questions. The second are run by generalists (often reference librarians) who don't necessarily answer your question, but point you to the best resources for conducting your own search.
Which Kind Of "Ask an Expert" Should I Choose
Which type of these resources you choose depends on what your question is. If you're interested in a really complex or obscure topic—the history of the mullet, for example—your best bet is to ask an expert on that subject. If you're interested in a broader topic, or simply want a good overview of a subject, the generalists will usually provide you with better results. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of experts in specific subjects that will answer your questions on the Web.
Find and Ask An Expert Via Search Engines
To find your own expert in a specific category, try the following search string at Google or any other search engine:
- "expert+subject" (substitute your own keyword for "subject")
I tried this with the subject "geology" and got fantastic results.
Find a Librarian
One of your best sources for expert information is your local librarian. They're trained to find answers to obscure questions, they're friendly, and best of all, you can talk with them face to face. Librarians will often ask you questions that you might not have considered, leading to even better results. You can get help from librarians online, too.
The Internet Public Library is primarily intended to get you started with some ideas and places to begin if you've got a big project. The IPL won't perform lengthy research for you—but they do provide some tools to assist your search, both online and at your local library. Their vast collection includes IPL Expert Guides that are "intended to help you get started doing research on a particular topic, both online and at your local library."
The Library of Congress enables you to not only ask a librarian, but search catalogs of libraries from all over the world. This is truly a HUGE resource that should be on your Top Ten of best research sites. Anything from Academica Sinica (Taiwan) to Yale University (US) is here and ready to be searched.
For even more "ask an expert" sites, continue on to page two of this article.