Most students beginning their first year of an undergraduate education have only a vague sense of the intellectual adventure in front of them. Yet over the course of several years, as their studies deepen and their knowledge of concepts and approaches in their chosen fields grows, some of the most curious and motivated among them will embrace the opportunity to apprentice alongside their faculty advisors as bench scientists, as archival researchers, as critical theorists, as data analysts and statisticians, as creators and innovators.
Foundational to that involvement in research—in knowledge creation—is systematic exploration of the accumulated scholarship upon which new research and new ideas are built. One academic convention that expresses this reality is the literature review, in which a researcher examines the prior work that enables the asking of new questions and the generation of new answers. The research library, in both its digital and its physical forms, and in the expertise for supporting structured inquiry that librarians embody, sits at the nexus of this process.
Exploration of the complex preceding scholarship that informs research is transformative and humbling for many undergraduates, whether it occurs in bookstacks, in an archive, or online. The experience of seeking, navigating, and comprehending the depth and breadth of an intellectual domain is what a research library facilitates in all its guises. As a repository of accumulated intellectual and creative enterprise, the research library is a fundamental site for learning and academic growth, a place for confronting the scope and depth of prior science, prior thought, prior imagination. Library exploration nourishes the classroom and the lab.
So we choose to celebrate undergraduate research because the library is about this fundamental interaction between inheritance and new prospects, serving as a continuous transmitter of what’s been learned in the past as it bears upon the pressing questions and challenges of the present. The culminating work of our best student researchers excites the mind and inspires us to look forward to a world their contributions will make better.
—Joe Lucia, Dean of Libraries