Friday Five: What I Learned at the Library

Let’s go back a few years. Okay, a few decades, to the last time I did any substantive research at a library. Let’s call that year, oh…1985. University of Virginia. A beautiful library.

With card catalogs and books.

Basically, you looked through the catalog and then you went and looked through the book. I vaguely remember that they did have computers, and you could find and get a copy of a journal article or two, but I honestly can’t remember if I did that myself, or if those computers were only for the librarians to get into.

The basic thing I’m saying here is that your resources were limited. It didn’t feel that way, it felt wonderful and exciting and like you were going down multiple paths to find out about your chosen subject.


The “me” that was doing research then had no clue about how many paths there were, or how far the spider webs of connective research could spread. Because, you know, the Internet was just a gleam in some ten-year-old’s eye back then. That’s just one of the many things I learned on my trip to San Jose’s Martin Luther King library this week. Here are a few others.

1. You are now allowed to bring food and drink into a library. Really! They even have a little cafe down on the first floor where you can buy it. Some floors only allow the drink, but, where I was working, it was all good.  And Numi Green Tea and a Cool Mint cliff bar make research a much happier thing.

2. Librarians are saints. Definitely. Here’s the thing, though–They’re really good at this research stuff. And they make it look pretty darned easy. Um…not. My best recommendation to you–if you sit down at the computer, and what you thought they told you to do just doesn’t work like it did for them, go back and ask for more help. If you can’t email or save the file you thought you’d be able to, go back and ask for more help. If you don’t know how to even start finding the books and articles on that list of autobiographies by women doctors, go back and…well, you get the point. Because they’ll keep helping you! Nicely. With smiles. And not an ounce of that “Are you an idiot, or what?” tone you’re so afraid of hearing.

3. You don’t need to bring any coins for the copy machine. I didn’t even see a copy machine. And you may very well not have to worry about paying for printed copies. You just…are you ready? EMAIL everything to yourself! (Okay, well, you go back and ask for help emailing everything to yourself!)

4. Libraries are still quiet, but they’re not painfully quiet, anymore. Remember, you already have sipping and munching noises. And you have the faint click of lots of people texting on their phones (yes, me, too). You even have a few faint voices of people *gasp* TALKING on their phones. Now I did venture up to the top floor to look for a few books, and that floor was labeled as a quiet zone, and it was…very quiet. But, you know, the quiet zone used to be the whole library.

5. This last thing I learned may be more about me than about the library, although they’re tied together. There is, for me, a quality of research I’ll call TMI. Yes, Too Much Information. I don’t know if my brain is hard-wired this way, or if it just needs to be stretched and retrained out of those card-catalog-to-book limits, but my synapses do not go happily along all the possibilities the Internet and Intranet offer. My visit felt a little bit like the computer was asking me over and over, with increasing impatience, “Is this what you need? Is this what you need?” And all I could say back was “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

There’s a tie-in here, somewhere, with the introvert-extravert definitions at Shrinking Violet Promotions (where an introvert may or may not be shy, but does get an energy-recharge from alone time; an extrovert gets that same research from interacting with other people). My visit to the library was not a recharge experience.

I’m not positive, but I think I found some resources that will help me with my story. I feel like I just dipped into things, and only the next couple of weeks of downloading and reading will tell me if I skimmed any gold off that surface. I’ll need to go back to the library, and I will go. I’m pretty sure I’ll get better at this each time I go.

But only, you know, because of #2.  🙂


  1. Claudine says:

    Just the greatest article!! Funny, informative and fear-chasing. Thanks, Becky.



    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Claudine. I DID feel like fear was chasing me. OH! You mean the other way around…ha! 🙂


  2. P. J. Hoover says:

    I love university libraries over all else. they are just perfect with so many secret nooks.
    Love this!


    • beckylevine says:

      P.J. This one is very different–at least from the U libraries I’ve been in. It was built as a BEAUTIFUL branch of the public library, and then they did a joint-merge thing with the college library, economically & I guess computer-wise. Has some floors that feel just like a great, big public library and some with that HUSHED feel I remember from college.


  3. I just never get over it that librarians want to helps us. I love how if you call ahead, archivist have boxes of stuff pulled and waiting for us.

    I always get overwhelmed immediately with all that is available. I’ve never emailed stuff to myself from the library. Not sure why. Maybe because I’m usually in a book or microfilm machine which doesn’t provide that option. But I take a lot of pics!

    And yeah, the food thing is pretty cool too. Although sometimes I actually forget about food when I’m finding really good stuff!


  4. Amy G says:

    Yes to #5! Even for me, a research library junkie if there ever was one, there can be such a thing as TMI.

    Yay for you for crossing the library Rubicon!


    • beckylevine says:

      Amy, I can’t imagine how many pages and documents and articles you had to go through for your book. Even more impressed now that I’ve just stuck a toe in! 🙂


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