How to Research Before the Internet...
Like many other people, I have the tendency to mistake everyday luxuries as staples of life and forget what they really are; extras. With that being said, if some of these “extras” were taken away from me, I would cry like a baby and swear that life can’t go on without them. For example: how would I ever call my mom, or anyone for that matter, without my cellphone? Since my blissful marriage with my smartphone began, I decided it was better suited to remember all of my numbers instead of me. There are plenty of other gadgets that I would deem as a must in keeping my sanity in this world (shout out to my coffee maker, without you I would’ve been responsible of murdering someone by now).
However, today I wanted to point out another one of life’s extras that I couldn’t function without, the internet. Okay, I may be being a little dramatic. There have been writers since before there was paper and they got along just fine, right? Well in my mind they weren’t aware of how self-tortured they really were.
I’m currently working on my third book while my team puts the finishing touches on my second novel, The Beast Unveiled. While I was working on my third book, I had a couple of ideas I realized needed more attention to detail, so I went back to researching the topics I needed. Even though research can be (and usually is) very time consuming, the internet has been my best friend for reference and cross-referencing from the early 2000’s. I started to think of when the internet wasn’t available for researching a topic and I felt a shudder go through my body. No really, I did.
I think we have forgotten how much work was needed to properly study topics before writing about them.
To research a topic back in the day, it took you finding the information from an outside source. Acquiring books required diligent knowledge of subject headings or a really good subject specific bibliography, which you may or may not have at your disposal. This shouldn’t have been too hard if you had access to nicely stocked library and a nice librarian to guide you, but your access was still limited by the in-house collection. If they didn't happen to have the title you needed, the luxury of your time was heavily taxed by needing to order the title from an inter-library loaning system, and that was just the beginning.
Just like the internet today, books had the issue of all sources not being weighted the same. So after receiving your books of choice, an evaluation of the publisher, author's reputation, or third party reviews were smart to find. Again, without the help of the internet. Then there were the journal articles and newspaper clippings that took another method of looking through and you’re once again dependant on the ability of your library keeping a tidy card catalog and microfiche.
However you’re also required to have the knowledge of appropriate subject headings or using references from key publications. The evaluation of these sources needed to be done as well.
Finding primary documents was almost exclusively limited to specialized bibliographies and literature searches performed by librarians or found within references in journal articles. Access to these materials usually meant finding a place that housed archives and special collections on a specific topic. Inter-library loans were usually not an option for these specialized items, such as state documents.
I would be lying if I said all of these steps are no longer necessary to garner the information needed for whatever you might be trying to write about, but a lot of these steps now are done from the comfort of your own home on your computer. Now, because of the internet, I can do hours upon hours of looking for proper sources in my pajamas while taking a break here and there to see what my friends are up to on Facebook!
What can I say? Life is good!