(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Have you used the "Ask a Librarian" service at your public library? It's a wonderful service offered by many public libraries around the country. If you haven't used it I suggest you try it out, and if you have I'd love to hear about your experience. I used it recently when I was looking for some statistics on the population of Katowice, Poland for my post Trip to Poland, 1937 (An Ongoing Series): Katowice.
I'm a librarian myself, and B.C. (Before Child) spent 11 years in reference. Believe me, reference librarians live for this stuff. I usually do my own research, because I love doing it, but one night was at home and knew because of scheduling issues I wasn't going to be able to get down to the library for several days. I had a brilliant thought. Why not check out the "Ask a Librarian" service at the public library? I filled out their online form around 10:00 p.m., and bada bing bada boom, the next morning there was my answer in an e-mail response. I followed it up with another question and promptly got a second reply. I love those people.
Here are my tips for using your "Ask a Librarian" service successfully:
~ read and follow the directions for an e-mail query
~ provide as much information as you can to give the librarian a real idea of what you are looking for, but also try to be as precise and succinct as possible
~ tell the librarian what resources you've already checked for information
~ be patient as sometimes it may take a day or two or even a week or two to receive your answer
~ be polite, and a follow-up thank you e-mail is always nice
Be aware that some questions lend themselves to e-mail queries more readily than others. My population question was pretty straightforward. Librarians may not, or in some cases will not, do extensive research for you, at least free of charge. If you provide an exact citation for an obit they will probably be able to help you out. If you say, "I think my John Smith died sometime in 1902," but you're not sure of the particulars and there isn't an easily accessible index to the newspaper where the obit might have appeared, they may not be able to help you. Believe it or not, not all old newspapers are indexed or online. Take some of my local Worcester, MA papers for example. Librarians simply don't have time to do extensive research for every patron. That being said, "Ask a Librarian" is a wonderful service. Try it out.
Now I'm off to do research. I live for this stuff...
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