Although I was unable to attend the annual conference this year, I was thrilled to learn that I had won the 2013 AIIP Writer’s Award. I was chosen for my article “Don’t Delay…Hire a Business Coach Today,” published in the September 2012 issue of Connections. I would like to thank the Awards Committee and Information Today, Inc. for this honor.
When people think of March, the first thing that usually springs to mind is Saint Patrick’s Day–which is, of course, a fun and much-loved celebration of Irish heritage. It’s something to look forward to each and every year.
What we sometimes forget is that March is also Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the contributions of women to our society. What began as Women’s History Week in the 1980s is now a month-long annual celebration.
Let’s take a moment to remember the trials of women in American history. There was a time when females were prohibited from owning property. They were barred from institutions of higher learning. (The first college to admit women wasn’t established until 1833.) And they had no voting rights. (The first women’s rights convention was held in 1848, yet the 19th amendment–securing voting rights–was not adopted until 1920.)
Our foremothers–and women in the present day–shed blood, sweat, and tears for the sake of others and society as a whole. Check out these resources to make the most of this Women’s History Month:
Recently, I wrote about what to expect when visiting an archives or special collections department for the first time. My tips included checking the researcher policies ahead of time and bringing pencils, rather than pens. Today, I will focus on utilizing the “undiscovered” repository.
When new researchers look for a starting point, their first stop–after online resources, of course–is probably going to be the local library. And this is a terrific place to begin. There they will have access to reference staff, microfilm/microfiche readers, and, in many cases, a state or local history collection. As an added perk, with a valid library card, researchers can request needed materials from other library systems through inter-library loan (ILL).
If you are a researcher, you may have asked yourself, “Where can I go besides the local public library?” Some of the more common options include state libraries, local historical societies, and state archives. Once again, these are all great choices. But don’t stop there. Broaden your search and look for smaller, perhaps lesser known repositories that may have useful specialized collections.
I can think of two examples where this approach has benefited my own research. When I was working on a project in Kansas City, I naturally visited the Missouri Valley Special Collections at Kansas City Public Library and the Midwest Genealogy Center at Mid-Continent Public Library. And I was fortunate to find a wealth of information at both of these repositories. However, when I became stumped on a few questions, I looked for other sources of information.
For this particular project, I was looking for background information and dates (or date ranges) for various artifacts. The items in question ranged from typical kitchen implements and household furnishings to farm equipment.
To research the household pieces, I visited the archives department at Union Station. (An experienced museum consultant with whom I had been working made this extremely helpful suggestion). There I was able to pore over a collection of old catalogs dating back to the Late 19th Century. Getting a sense of what products and styles were popular in given years helped me to narrow down the date ranges for some of the artifacts. (Note: The research policies and collection availability may have changed in the last few years. Contact the Collections Department before planning a research trip).
Another hidden gem turned out to be the Agricultural Hall of Fame. This facility had books and catalogs that helped me to identify some of the farm equipment. Being that antique farm machinery was not one of my specific areas of expertise, this small but specialized collection proved to be a great service.
In the broadest sense, the lesson is that the answers to your research questions can lie in unexpected places. Look for the unique collections in your area. Ask the librarians, as well as your fellow researchers, what other research centers are available that might help you in your search. You may be surprised to learn that the perfect “undiscovered” repository was right under your nose all along.
*Originally published 15 March 2011*
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a special collections department with someone who had never been before. As I was busy signing in and filling out call slips, it occurred to me that a first-timer might be overwhelmed by how different this type of research environment is, especially compared to a public or college library.
With that in mind, I drafted a list of tips that could help a budding researcher prepare for his or her first visit to the special collections.
Go to the organization’s website and review the policies for researchers.
You may find that you’ll need to register as a patron, show identification, or check in with the librarian (or archivist) on duty upon your arrival. In some situations, you may have to pay a fee to use the collections. And services, such as photocopying, may or may not be provided. It’s much better to be prepared for these possibilities ahead of time. (Of course, if you cannot find the policies online, you’ll want to call the department directly.)
Be prepared to deposit your belongings in a locker.
Those who are accustomed to settling in for long hours at the library with an over-sized backpack and a travel mug of coffee* may be surprised by the restrictions in place at an archives or special collections department. Bags may be subject to search (or prohibited) and drinks are rarely allowed. You may want to save yourself the hassle by leaving food, beverages*, and large bags at home. Staff may direct you to place other forbidden items, such as cell phones or portfolios, in a locker.
*If necessary, you can always make an emergency Starbucks run after you leave. However, if your research topic is engaging enough, you might be able to bypass the caffeine fix altogether!
Bring pencils, rather than pens.
It is very likely that only pencils will be allowed in the reading room, so sharpen a couple of trusty yellow #2′s before heading out to do your research. You may prefer pens, but this is a very small sacrifice for the sake of research. (Besides, you don’t want to be responsible for leaving a permanent inky blemish on a piece of history anyway.)
Do not feel persecuted if you find yourself under the scrutinizing eye of staff.
Staff members are looking out for the safety and security of irreplaceable collections. These individuals ensure that the documents are handled properly and that nothing inadvertently gets mixed in with your own papers. (And, yes, they are monitoring all of the researchers, not just you.)
These are just a few of the things to consider before embarking on a research trip. There are probably countless other guidelines and rules of thumb for new archival researchers, but this is a solid starting point. Just be prepared, go with the flow, and enjoy the fact that you are accessing amazing materials that most people will never see.
Best of luck!
*Originally published 14 Feb 2011*
Thank you for visiting our website and blog!
We at Cotton Gloves Research, LLC love history and endeavor to help our clients reach their research goals. If you’d like to discuss our services or schedule a project, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to walking the pages of history with you!