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It’s what I do

Readers, I consider myself a junior member of the History Detectives. I love that show. Of course, I realize that they have a big team of people going around and digging and researching the topics they show on television. It isn’t just the one host doing all that digging, although it may seem like it. Hell, they’d never have a show that way. It takes too much time for one person to sift through articles and documentation to cover your topic.

My favorite History Detective, Gwen Wright. Source: History Detectives, PBS

My favorite History Detective, Gwen Wright. Source: History Detectives, PBS

What has worked the best so far with my research is the fact that, like my favorite History Detective, Gwen Wright, I am damn persistent. If one source tells me ‘no,’ then I find someone else who tells me ‘yes.’

I would like to add that when looking for obscure information, folks, you have to look in MORE THAN ONE PLACE, and use MORE THAN ONE SOURCE to get your data.

Why the rant?

This afternoon, I heard from my institution’s library that they were unable to locate the microfilmed newspaper I had requested. I expect that now and again; not every 100 year old newspaper was digitized or put into bound copy. Some issues simply don’t exist anymore, which is unfortunate.

But, what I don’t expect is one dead-end answer from a research assistant at a library. It was this: “We processed your request, the (one) lender (they asked) doesn’t exist, have a good day.”

No follow up? ONE source? Oh, come on, Librarian Overlords. That was a Freshman research mistake!

Five minutes after I got the email that the film didn’t “exist,” I searched the holding of another state university’s library. Badabing. There it was, the ‘nonexistent’ reel of film, listed in that other institution’s catalog. I sent a followup request to work with that library on it.

This was an easy ‘brick wall’ to manage, but I have to say, most people new to research will not or cannot handle ‘no.’ A negative or perceived dead end will shut them down. If I had stopped at the first ‘no’ in the Emmett Wilson project…well, we wouldn’t be sitting here together, now, would we?

Trust me when I tell you I’ve had plenty of ‘no’s’ in this project.

If I get nothing else out of this, I have a great anecdote to share with my students next semester. But for now, if you are reading this and you have hit a research brick wall, my advice is not to give up. As Ida Tarbell would say, “If it was printed and published, it exists somewhere.”

Take a break, ask someone else for another view on the topic, or ask a different librarian. Often, that change of tactic is all it takes to get moving again.


Categories: Research Status


Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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