What’s Your Reference Question?

October 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm 2 comments

No matter how long you’ve been answering reference questions, sooner or later you will be faced with a topic that is unfamiliar, or where the literature is difficult to find. then it’s time to play a variation on “Twenty Questions” — Is it bigger than a breadbox? Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral? and in this particular case, what else might it be called?

With thanks to my colleague, Jessica Gunther, who shared a particularly thorny question recently on secure drug management in ambulances or ambulance bases — this is how I approached it.  Sometimes the requester can provide articles or terminology that clarify the question.  If not, I usually go to Google with the words I have, and any synonyms which come to mind.  The idea is to expand the vocabulary and the concepts involved.

  • Ambulance — emergency transport, paramedics, EMT, “emergency medical” 
  • Security — locked, box, secure, access, theft 
  • Drugs — “controlled substances”, narcotics, DEA, “controlled drug”

This string in Google and Google Scholar: (narcotics ι “controlled substances”) AND (ambulances paramedics “emergency medical”  prehospital  EMS) AND (locked box security secured access theft) revealed an interesting mix of ads for “drug boxes”, and state and county regularions regarding access control. There were also a number of links to news reports of theft of controlled substances from ambulance bases.

Using the same search string in SCOPUS, I found one article: 
Macnab, A.J., Noble, R., Smart, P., Green, G. 
Narcotics and controlled drugs: A secure system for access by transport teams
Air Medical Journal 1998 Apr:17(2):73-75 
PubMed ID: 10180788

No one had cited it, but I used the “related article” feature in PubMed to bring up publications which might be useful. Upon review, they were related, but only peripherally.

No, it was not a perfect solution — but the mix of resources, and approaches can move you into unexpected areas — the legal literature, police science, in this instance.

Patricia “Pat” Erwin
Reference Librarian

Entry filed under: What's Your Reference Question?.

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  • 1. Kurt Beaver  |  October 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Great article, Pat! You could give Jack Key’s favorite author a run for his money!


  • 2. Bill Nichols  |  October 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    It’s exactly how mine works in the same situation!

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