Monica Smith, a student working toward a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction writing, was looking for a needle in a haystack. Specifically, Smith wanted to write a series of children’s books about African American aviators. The problem she faced was a lack of access to high-quality reference materials necessary to create books that are visually compelling, informative, and engaging.

“Some of the people I wanted to write about are less known,” Smith said. “Besides information on pilots involved in an African American civilian pilot training program, I needed pictures to make these stories come alive for middle grade history students.”

The rare resources Smith needed are not always found via traditional search engines or within library reference desks. In fact, many of the resources required for Smith’s project are available only by special request from places like the National Air and Space Museum Library—an institution with limited staff, and she knew that a request to NASML could result in delays that would jeopardize the deadline for her project.

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