Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Research Like an Expert, A Librarian's Guide to Researching Your Book

As an assistant librarian for a Christian college and now as a writer for Library Journal, I must admit research is one of my favorite things. Yes, my books and spices are alphabetized, although I'm not a clean freak by any means.

I wanted to share a few sites that librarians make frequent use of and how they are used. I think many of them will prove helpful for writers and I want to share why.

Library of Congress: Digital Collections and Services department is a HUGE database with loads of resources that you will find helpful. 

Let's pick a topic. Suppose my main character is a slave escaping from Virginia to Canada using the Underground Railroad. 

Browse collections by topic and click on the African American history section. You will find endless documents, maps and pamphlet collections. For many of these you can even purchase reproductions.

One especially helpful resource you can find here is voice recordings and interviews. Here are 7 hours of interviews from former slaves. You can even see the pictures that go along with those voices. I don't know about you but listening to audios helps me capture voice inflection and accent of the time period and the peculiarities of accent in different places. 

Chronicling America is an advanced search site that includes newspapers from a variety of locations during the years 1836 through 1922. A hundred years ago today alone includes 59 periodicals. By perusing newspapers, not only can you find wonderful black and white photographs that express emotion and evoke your time period but you can gain a feel for the language usage, slang, and common expressions of the day. 

The National Jukebox contains over 10,000 sound recordings. If you are looking for popular music from a very specific era or more rare location it can be next to impossible to find at your local library. On the sidebar, you can click on day by day and you'll find a list in order by year of recording. You can search by genre, or artist, or even get as specific as requesting a particular day using this search engine

One of my favorite sections is Collections of Maps. There are over 2000 maps in the collection from the Civil War alone. You can also find battle and campaign maps that would be especially helpful for those writing novels about any war. Panoramic birds-eye view maps can give you a great feel for the topography and the buildings of an area. Other maps in the City map category can give you understanding of the evolution of place for the town your story takes place in.

Spend some time browsing this site, there are myriads of resources you will find useful no matter what your subject is. Those who work in libraries spend much time on this site and writers will find so much to help them in their research!

There are two features I think are super valuable. Ask a Librarian is a great way to get expert information from librarians who know your topic. I may be a bit biased but I think your local librarian is a great starting source to help you dig into all that's out there on your time period of interest. Here you can chat or email with librarians who specialize in a specific collection, such as Africa, Law, or American Folk Life. 

And don't forget about a great service your library can offer you, interlibrary loan. If you haven't made frequent use of it, start. Through Library of Congress your librarian has access to resources you might not be able to find as easily on your own. 

Please share: What are your favorite sites for research? Do you use the Library of Congress resources?

Julia lives in central Virginia with her husband, two children, and three spoiled ragdoll cats. She writes and reviews for Library Journal magazine and is a regular contributor to the website Wonderfully Woven


Mary Vee Writer said...

I am blown away with all the superb resources and explanations of what they offer in your post. I even told my college age daughter. This is amazing! Thanks!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Mary, This is great for college students. Hope they help her!

Unknown said...

Great information, Julia! I've used the Library of Congress for nonfiction articles and its an excellent primary source that's always well-respected by publishers. Thanks!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Peggy, Glad you've found LoC useful! It is one of my all-time favorite sites.

Sandra Stiles said...

I will check out the resources you listed. For a WIP set in the former East Germany, I checked out a museum that dealt with that time period. Checked websites then looked up people involved in news articles. Many of them were helpful. Check out online newspapers.

The Artist Librarian said...

Yes! So many people need to know about these types of resources! Just today, I showed a senior citizen who's basically auditing a course how to access databases available through our public library system (he couldn't access the school's databases because he's not a student paying tuition) and it was so awesome to see his reaction.

Hope you'll do further posts on online resources in the future --I think it'll be handy for authors and more. =)

Unknown said...

Hi Julia: Thank you for sharing the resources on today's post. Learning how to tap into these resources is new to me. I look forward to 'investigating' the riches they offer. I have a question. I am interested in writing within the Christian Fantasy Genre. I will explore the Folklore link that is listed on the resource page. Can you recommend ‘research resources’ that are specific to Christian Fantasy (or Fantasy)? Thank you for your time.

Joanne Sher said...

WOW this stuff looks FABULOUS. This post is definitely a keeper! Thanks so much, Julia!

Robin E. Mason said...

Julia your post is like a toy store!! i love doing research and all the resources you give!! thank you thank you thank you!!!

Angie Dicken said...

Julia is amazing! We certainly need more posts like this. Julia is unable to answer tonight, but just wanted to agree with you all! Thanks for coming by the Alley today!!

Mavis said...

This is really good.Am going to impliment it right away.thanks