Research: Following the Paper Trail, Part II
When visiting research facilities, make sure you have made a list of information, dates, names (proper spellings of course), and locations that are important to your project or reflect the information you are looking for. Don’t wait until you get to a research facility to “think” what it is you are looking for. It can be very embarrassing to go to a research facility, address a reference librarian with the fact you are doing academic research on a subject for a possible book project and have the librarian ask you a question on “YOUR” subject and you don’t have the information available to give.
Study and explore card catalogs, computer databanks, collection lists and ask the reference librarian for suggestions about where else you might find information. It is amazing how “on top” of a facility most reference librarians are. Most really know their books and their collections and love to search out information that is difficult to find.
Skim and scan over information you find. Can you photocopy this information? If you can photocopy the needed information, wonderful, you are in luck. If not, start recording by hand. Make sure you have a notebook with you ‘just” for this information. Record collection and acquisition numbers, box numbers, book title page, copyright, publisher, page numbers, and the information needed.
If you are photocopying information from a book make sure you ask the librarian about the “fair use” law that they follow. YOU CAN NOT PHOTOCOPY ENTIRE BOOKS – It is illegal.
When photocopying, first, copy the front insert page that will give you the title of book, the author, the publishing house and the copyright information. Make sure when putting your material in separate folders that this title page goes in the front of the folder for later citation. Also, on the outside of the folder, write down the name of the facility, the date you visited, and the cost of photocopying (for tax write-offs if your book gets published and make sure you receive or ask for a receipt for copying).If you have not brought along separate folder files to keep your copies neat and together, make sure you tab the ends of the sheets together or better yet, paperclip them.
If, at a library, you want or need the information in the whole book, just photocopy the title page and purchase the book to help build your own reference library. The best place I have found to purchase books will take us back to our computers, where you can purchase used books for a fraction of the cost of new ones. Also, when you purchase a used book, you don’t feel so bad if you find it necessary to highlight a passage or underline something you will need to investigate as you are reading and learning more about your research subject.
If you are in a rare book collection or archival collection and you find “just” the perfect piece of information, keep in mind, you can not photocopy these things. You must hand copy the information (don’t forget to copy the cover page for citation).
In some rare cases a book or file, even if it is a reference piece, “might” be available to photocopy a certain portion. This again is where it is important to get to know the reference librarian, archivist or curator, because if they believe in your project and can make it happen for you to get the information in photocopy format, they will give you their best. If they say “no”, however, the answer is “no”. Be respectful, thank them and start copying by hand. Keep in mind; you never know when you might need their help again.
In archival collections, if photocopying is permissible, the archivist or the assistant archivist, most often, would rather handle the ancient or fragile documents themselves and not risk having the paper the documents are written on be jeopardized by careless handling or soiling. In this case, you will select the documents and records you want copied and record what collection, box, file, number of pages, and page numbers you want, write this down for you records, also record on your copy the facility name, location, person helping you, date and time. Give a copy of your information sheet to the archivist. They will figure out the number of pages, and tell you the cost for their work and copies; you “generally” have to pay up-front for these documents, and so make sure you get only what you need, but everything in the file or box.
The archivist will ask for your address and tell you to expect it to take up to six weeks before you get the information. I know it can be time consuming but worth every minute of it as you now have original (copies) of documents in the original hand of the people or person you are doing research on. It is an incredible thrill when you finally get your copied originals in the mail and you sit down to “try” and decipher writings from a bygone era.
If you are at a visual research location such as a museum, check with the curator and ask if they have a museum library or a research book list on the artifacts you are looking at. This will help you create a reference list for you to look at and purchase reference books that will help you have a better understand of the things you are doing research on.
This type of research is an incredible education for a writer; everyone should do it, at least, once to really see what it is all about. It makes you feel like Indiana Jones of the book set.