The academic library is a vast archive of print and digital materials organized by professional librarians who develop schema for accessing millions of documents. Their classification of materials is vital intellectual activity. Without their ordering of knowledge, scholarly work would remain hidden from public view and historical ephemera would likely disappear altogether. Librarians have developed methods for preserving documents and providing open access to information and knowledge. The academic library is an architectural feat, a virtual house of knowledge in material and digital form that is constantly refreshed with new holdings. Entering the digital and physical space of the academic library is not unlike setting forth on a journey of twists, turns, and pathways–some planned and others serendipitous–that requires constant navigation. We offer you an instrument to help you navigate this territory. Beyond this, we hope that you will regularly consult with the library’s team of information literacy specialists who will meet with you at any stage of your research project.
Much like a directional compass, the research compass is designed to orient you to where you are in various stages of the research and information-gathering process. Each of the five “A’s” names a distinct area or activity in that process and is designed to help you think forward and backward: What steps lie ahead? What remains undone? What do I need to return to? What deserves a second look? The process of library research and information gathering isn’t linear; it’s recursive, filled with fits and starts, revisions and returns. Practiced researchers don’t expect the process to be easy-going. Instead, they expect inevitable messiness, some confusion, moments of asking for assistance, and occasional desperation. Veteran researchers are a lot like detectives who enjoy sniffing out the non-obvious and reckoning with ambiguity. Edgar Allan Poe invented the term ratiocination to account for the remarkable powers of his famous detectives. Certainly, the research process is primarily driven by reasoning, but it is also guided by the spirit of exploration, as is all intellectual activity.