Today a librarian, on behalf of her students, asked other librarians how they handle the issue of a student who is a self-taught expert in an area “for example, a sophomore taking 20th Century World History might be an expert on military tactics and therefore not have any outside sources to cite for some parts of her paper.” They wanted to know if is there a way for a student to indicate this (for instance citing herself as the source) that would eliminate the need for a conversation about sources after the paper has been turned in? So for everyone who has heard me rant about authority, here is how I replied:
Regarding self-taught “experts” (I’m putting this in quotation marks for a reason and not because I’m one of those kooky air quotes people who puts everything in quotation marks)… I tell my students I don’t want them to use as a source anyone whose number can be found in their own cell phones. If I were writing an article on your topic for Smithsonian Magazine or the New York Times or The American Journal of Public Health, would I call this person as an expert? If your answer is yes, then by all means hit that speed dial and revel in the delight that you know someone famous in the field you’re writing about and be sure to ask the person for suggestions of more sources you can use in your research.