Real Life Research: In Which I Meet the Author

In addition to providing support for writers doing research, I want to share some of my own experiences conducting research for my novels. (Read: I want to geek out over all the cool libraries and reading rooms I visit.)

Conducting historical research is a unique experience for me – I’ve been teaching undergraduates how to do research for almost a decade, but I haven’t trekked to an archives myself for years.  (I publish as a librarian, but I mainly do ethnographic research professionally, which doesn’t require much work with historical sources.)

Earlier this week I went to the Minnesota History Center to use their library.  First, can we talk about how gorgeous this building is?  I walked up the stairs to the main atrium and thought for a second that I’d wandered onto the set of Game of Thrones.  (So, anyone seen Jaime Lannister?  Anyone?  You just tell him where I am when he comes looking for me.)

I got my library card and even managed to work the storage lockers. (You’re not allowed to bring bags, purses, computer carrying cases, etc. into the reading room, which is standard security practice to make sure no one walks off with any of the materials.)  I stopped at the Reference Desk and the friendly librarian explained how the material request slips work.  (I resisted the urge to blurt, “I’m a librarian, too!  See my ALA card!”)

Soon I was happily ensconced in a pile of bound journals and pamphlets.  I was in the middle of reading about an almost-lynching in St. Paul in 1895 when a gentleman approached my table.  He said he noticed I what I was reading, then he pointed to the byline and said, “That’s me.”  How cool is that!? (I mean the meeting the author part – the near-lynching was terrifying.)  We had a lovely chat about my research and he suggested a few additional sources that might be helpful.

As I paged through folders and articles, I couldn’t help but overhear other conversations in the reading room.  Librarians were helping junior high students (and a few parents) with History Day presentations.  A few tables away from me, two women realized they had met at a workshop and then launched into a conversation about the genealogy research they were each pursuing.  I was struck by the unique and odd community that springs up around research.  Our paths might never cross again, but on one cold winter morning, a tenuous but real connection formed in the reading room.  I was glad to be a part of it.

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