Sunday, April 15, 2012

Librarians - your best worst friend

I stopped working on Pierian Spring a while ago because I realized that one of my main characters, Andrew was a Harvard College student and I didn't know much about Harvard College in the 18th century. I did as much research as I could online and with the history books on hand, but knew eventually I would need to find more thorough sources to flesh out Andrew's academic life.

Oh happy day it was when a google books search led me to Revolutionary Generation, a book about the Harvard class of 1774. The book covers the lives of 204 students during their four years from 1771 to 1774. I read through everything offered in the Google books preview, but as you know with Google book previews pages and sections are left out, and knew I needed to read all of this book.

No problem, that's what libraries are for! I worked in the cataloging department of a large university library for 4 years, I love the library. The two best places in the world are libraries and book shops because I say so.

Of course, living in the Manistee National Forest of Michigan means I am nowhere near a large university depository library where a book like this might be, so I head to my local public library's website where I can request the book through inter-library loan. I check the public side of OCLC to see where the closest library that the book in their holdings might be, then put in the request through the online form my public library provides.

Then, I sit back and wait. I know inter-library loans can take from a week to up to a month, so I put working on my novel on hold until the book arrived. I really should have a clue about what Andrew's life at Harvard was like before I write about Andrew's life at Harvard, right? Right!

And I wait a little longer ... one month passes, two months ... three months ...

Huh? That's not how it works, especially when copies of the book are sitting in East Lansing and Kalamazoo. A trip to the library is in order it seems.

I need income tax forms anyway, so while I have copies of those made, I ask about their inter-library loan program and how long does it usually take? I explain about the form on the website that I filled out months before and never received any notice.

The librarian looked at me, and I swear this is what she said ... "We have an online form for that?"

Uh, yeah honey, ya sure do. I didn't say that out loud; thinking it the whole time though. The librarian suggested trying again. I took my tax forms, and a job application and left for home.

A week later I stopped again to check on the status. Different librarian there and didn't have a clue what I was talking about. "Perhaps you should bring in your titles hand written and we can process your request that way?" It became obvious to me I would need to do this old school.

Not that I mind old school, as stated earlier I spent four years working in the cataloging department of a large university library right when everything digital switched to awesome looking but memory bogging graphics. It looks pretty though, and that's all that matters right? I miss the card catalog.

So I waited another week and returned. This time I had my job application filled out and a hand written list of the titles I wanted to request for ILL. I handed the librarian the application, then asked about the books I wanted, and offered her that list.

"Oh wait, one of your books is in! I have it right here!" She pulled the book out from the bottom of the pile on her desk and showed it to me.


She stamped the due date in it for me, and even waived the $2.00 fee 'for my trouble'. Then she really hit me with the most mind-boggling part of this book Odyssey - The librarian who handles the website had no idea what that ILL form was for, so ... wait for it ... SHE JUST DELETED ALL THE BOOK REQUESTS WHEN THEY SHOWED UP ON THE SYSTEM.

Let me repeat, this ILL book request form is on the library website, but they had no idea it was there. Because they had no idea it was there, when people filled it out they didn't know what it was for, so they deleted the requests and forgot about them. Problem solved!

Oi ...

I am very happy to have my book. I am learning lots of great things that I can use in my novel to flesh out Andrew's life as a Harvard student. Perhaps I could write a scene where he struggles to find a book in the college library?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


BIG shout out to Jamie Corrigan and her excellent contest. I am one of nine winners randomly selected! I can't wait to see what my prize will be.

Thanks, Jamie!