Monday, January 19, 2009

To Librarians With Love

Previously, I wrote about the ethics of attempting to write historical fiction using shoddy research and I could almost hear some of you saying, "That's easy for her to say. She probably lives within walking distance of some huge library."  Right?  Wrong.
The bulk of my research was done when I lived 9 miles from the nearest town and 11 miles from the nearest library, when Bill Gates was still in diapers. And I have never had a driver's license.
What I did have was an enthusiastic librarian who taught me about the wonders of Inter-Library Loan. Through ILL, one can get just about any book from nearly anywhere, and sometimes half the fun is seeing where the books come from. I once borrowed a book on Feminist Witchcraft from a library in Yazoo, Mississippi.  Who'd a thunk it?
To use ILL effectively, you must first familiarize yourself with some reference tools. Specifically, a series of volumes titled BOOKS IN PRINT. Admittedly, to find what you need you often have to search the library's storage area for out of print volumes of Books in Print. Take a feather duster with you and do the librarian a favor while you're there. Sometimes, you may have to dig through several decades of dust to find exactly the title you need. However, I believe that, no matter what you want to find out, someone has put it in a book at some time or other. If not, it's time to write your own.
That's where my enthusiastic librarian came in. Although I could get to the library only on weekends when my husband came home from work, she searched the archives all week, and sent queries along with books she was returning. She requested books she thought I might be interested in without my asking and, every time I got to talk with her, she had a list of possible sources ready for me.
Another surprising thing is that I was sometimes able to study precious reference tomes that had to be read in the library because they were not available for public loan. This is an often-overlooked advantage to ILL. Once, when she obtained an extremely old and fragile volume on a limited loan, she personally hand-copied many pages for me because I was unable to stay at the library long enough to do it myself.
Remember, these were the times before copy machines reached small town America. Naturally, not every librarian would have the time to do all of that, no matter how enthusiastic they might be about a project. However, most of those I have worked with have been extremely supportive and generous with their time.
Librarians, with or without a Library Science degree, are an invaluable asset to the serious researcher. In fact, I have found that the smaller the library, the larger the heart of the librarian and the greater their enthusiasm for the written word.

Blessed be librarians one and all.

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