Writers Doing Research: Introduction

Time to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart – research!  After finishing a fantasy fiction novel that required very little research, I’m now working on the second draft of a manuscript that turned into a historical novel, much to my initial surprise.  Thus, I’m off to a local history center later this week to do some research on African Americans in the 1930s in the upper Midwest.

I’ve been a librarian for 10 years.  I know how libraries work.   I know how archives work.  Some of my dear friends are librarians and archivists.  Yet I found myself growing more and more anxious at the thought of this research trip.

While some of this stems from my own special blend of mild social anxiety, I realized that it also has something to do with library anxiety.  Library anxiety is a real phenomenon, rooted in a user not knowing how to use a library.  This situation might give rise to feelings of inferiority and even shame.  Some users find they are too embarrassed to ask for help, for fear of revealing their own lack of knowledge, and they give up.  This is especially true for people walking into large academic libraries for the first time.  (Head over to the Wikipedia entry on library anxiety for a succinct overview and references to the scholarly literature.)

Writing often requires research in libraries and archives, however.  Contrary to popular belief, not everything is on the internet.  Vast amounts of research materials can only be obtained through a library or archives.  But how do you know where to start?  What materials are where?  How do you get your hands on them?  And what’s the difference, even, between a library and an archives?

As a librarian, I have years of experience using libraries and archives, as well as expertise in teaching people how to do research well.  As a writer, I have a sense of how other writers might need to use research materials.  (And as a mildly socially awkward introvert, I’m perfectly positioned to cover the anxieties arising from both research and writing!)

Thus, a new blog series is born:  Writers Doing Research.  In future posts, look for tips on identifying research collections, searching effectively, organizing research materials, noting gaps in your research, and using materials ethically in your work.

Barrier to the page: Your book or short story doesn’t work without doing some research but you don’t know where to start

Solution: Know you’re not alone.  Read about library anxiety and look forward to upcoming blog posts that will guide you step-by-step through the process.


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