Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Library research made easy -- from your home computer!

I've always been a fan of libraries, but my appreciation has only increased the last five years, since I started researching my first non-fiction book, the Red Faber biography. Much of my work on that book -- and my other baseball work -- involves review of old newspaper articles.

As recently as a decade ago -- and even today, depending on the publications -- research of old newspapers involved parking yourself in a library, strapping the microfilm reels on the viewer and searching for articles that might be helpful. (Avoid watching the images whirring by on the screen, lest you become "seasick.") Precious few newspapers are indexed, so it's time-consuming to search this way. And you need to be physically present at the library (during business hours), to content with microfilm readers and printers that are balky and to pay for each copy you make. (Except at the Chicago Public Library!)

In addition to nausea, someone using this microfilm-reader system risks missing an important or interesting item, perhaps due to inattention, oversight or an editing error (bad headline, etc.) made a century ago.

Anyway, my research has been infinitely easier these days when the newspaper microfilm has been digitized and made searchable on the Internet. Now, I can type in my criteria (date ranges, names or words, words to exclude, etc.) and "search" multiple newspapers at once. Depending on the quality of the software and microfilm, these search engines can find a name or address in a garage sale ad.

My favorite service is ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Another is Paper of Record, whose premier publication (at least for a baseball reasearcher) is The Sporting News. (This service recently went free!) There are other services, including NewsBank, which offer searchable digitized images of newspaper pages.

Anyway, for the last year, Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque (pictured) has offered -- as part of its regular service, meaning free to library card holders -- several leading newspapers in the ProQuest suite. They include:
  • New York Times
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Boston Globe
  • Washington Post
Considering that all four papers had American League baseball teams in their cities, this service has been great for me, especially since I'm currently researching and writing about American Leaguers.

The library also has the Heritage Quest online service, which, among other features, allows you to search census enumerators' log books. I found some of my Cooper relatives from downstate Illinois in there.

Carnegie-Stout has other databases, including subjects in which I have no interest or aptitude (such as auto repair manuals). Something for everyone? Likely.

One doesn't have to be a researcher or writer to enjoy this service. What was going on in the sports world or the rest of the world on the day you were born? How did various papers handle major news events, be it Pearl Harbor or Christmas or the JFK assassination?

If you have a Dubuque library card -- by the way, most non-Dubuque residents may purchase one for $104 a year -- get it (you need the numbers on the back). Then check out this service. It's powerful, fast and free.

If you have questions about getting a Dubuque library card (resident or non-resident) fill out the form (qualifying non-residents, mail in the fee separately) contact the library. 563-589-4225.

I didn't intend to make this post so darn long, but I am a big proponent of this great research tool. You don't need to visit Carnegie-Stout, 11th and Locust, to take advantage of its service.


mike said...

Thanks, Brian! Be sure to check out Carnegie-Stout's Adult Services Blog, W. 11th & Bluff:

Also, see our Book and Movie Suggestions pages, with free e-newsletters and RSS feeds:

Michael May
Adult Services Librarian
Carnegie-Stout Public Library

RJ said...

Brian--Thank you for your kind words--

Bob Huggins
President & CEO