Library Etiquette, Part 2

As the summer research season starts kicking up into full swing, I thought I would first, refer you to my Post entitled Library Etiquette, on “pre-visitation” to an archival facility; and second prepare you for what is in store for when you get here.

PLEASE NOTE: If you will be visiting us briefly, please call ahead.  We can have your material pulled and ready for your arrival, which will cut down on time spent pulling your information.  In addition, never assume that your research will only take 10 minutes and bring your pets with you.  Our parking lot is not shaded, and we understand how quickly researchers can lose track of time.  We do not want anything to happen to your furry friend, while you are visiting us.  (And yes, this did happen on multiple occasions last year).  One last thing, many facilities, including ours will not allow new researchers in 30-45 minutes prior to closing.  We are not trying to be mean, it is a tool used to help the researchers currently at the facility check-out of the research room on time, with copies and research material in hand.

Visiting an archival facility is like visiting a grocery store; you need a plan of attack.  If you are like me, you can spend minutes, hours, or days developing your grocery list.  If you are also like me, you also forget to get about a quarter of what is on the list and end up with items that you did not need.  Regardless, planning, especially with the Weekly Advertisements, helps save money and time at the store.  Having a plan of attack for research is also a good idea.  Researchers LOVE to research.  How many times have you been sidetracked onto whole other topic because you read about something interesting? Next thing you know, it is Saturday at 4:00 and we are closing and you did not even find half of what you were really looking for.  It happens to the best of us…including me.  Remember: No, we will not give you just five more minutes, because we spend the remaining half hour of our day, preparing for the next, even if it is a Saturday.

By doing some “pre-research” before your visit, you can plan your attack, find the information you are looking for and hopefully leave enough time to research the stuff that catches your eye.  Pre-research beings on an archival website; where some institutions include finding guides to their collections.  Finding guides come in a variety of programs, from a Microsoft or PDF document to a keyword searchable database.  Whatever the format, these guides are designed to show you what is in the collection, and provide you with enough information for you to decide if the information will benefit your research.  These guides or indexes will not give you digital access to the actual document.  For that, you will need to visit the facility.  Some institutions, bigger institutions with a lot of financial support, will often post a collection online and in full.  The reality is this is only a small percentage, the rest of us do not have the financial backing or the labor to digitize our collections.  Personally, the fun is not in the clicking of a mouse, it is in the hunt through real paper.  It is also, why you can be sidetracked.

Doing pre-research will also familiarize yourself with your own research.  This will assist you in asking us what you specifically need for your research.  I cannot stress this enough: Please do not visit an archival facility and ask them for everything they have on such and such a topic.  For example: “I would like everything you have on Oley, PA” or I would like everything you know on the Weiser Family.”  It is much better for your research, and to receive material appropriate for your research to ask specific questions, such as: “When was Oley, PA founded” or do you have any genealogical materials specific to the Weiser Family that will help identify a date of birth for my family member?”  By asking a specific question, we can better target the information you need, so we are not wasting your time with something that is not helpful for what you are looking for.  In addition, be prepared to answer follow-up questions regarding your research.  Staff and volunteers will often ask questions to help narrow down the possibilities of reference material to better target the information.  If you are unclear in what you are looking for, these questions will help guide you and extract the information we need to provide you with the proper material.  Know what you want before arriving, it will cut out a lot of aggravation and speed up your researching process.

This also applies to email requests.  Believe it or not, most institutions will not answer research requests sent through email.  The standard response from us is, yes we have the information but you must submit an official request with the appropriate fees.  Rule of thumb, if it took you longer than 5 minutes to write your email and send it…it is most likely a request that you will be asked to pay for.  Please do not email an institution your entire life story to only ask if they can help find the date of your great-great-grandfather’s birth.  Email is a good communication tool for asking about hours of operation, or confusion regarding a finding guide, it is not a venue for original research.

Archival institutions are the keepers of primary documents.  And while we appreciate the vote of confidence, we are not experts on all things history or Berks related.  It is our job to provide you with the information you need to make your own conclusions.  We cannot perform original research.  We provide you with the tools you need to complete your own research.  We want you to have a fun and productive experience while visiting us.  We hope to see you all at some point over the summer!

Happy Researching!

Voted Most Smartest

December is almost over and I am sitting here surrounded by a mound of collections that I would love to finish before January 2nd, but realistically will not have finished until the end of next year.  I am a little nostalgic this year, because of everything that has happened, and because I just finished the most awesome collection that can be found in almost every historical society across the country.  This collection is the most under-utilized and never thought of primary resource.  Do I have your attention yet?  Are you wondering what collection could possibly be THAT interesting?

One of the most interesting primary resources that goes virtually unnoticed are yearbooks.  That’s right….yearbooks.  Now, in Berks County, we have a ton of schools, including the Boy’s High School, Girl’s High School and Standard Evening High School which all became Reading Senior High School.  Some Townships had their own, like Shillington and Sinking Spring, until they merged into Wilson.  Then, like in the case of Oley, after a while started printing separate yearbooks for their Elementary School and Middle School.  These are just a few examples.  I still wonder how they came up with their names like Colophon (Wyomissing High School) and Muhltohi (Muhlenberg Township High School).  Maybe if I had the opportunity to read the inside it would be explained.

PLEASE NOTE:  when requesting yearbooks in the HJL, researchers should request by Township, except for Reading.  We all know the Arxalma is for Reading High School.

Now, why are they over-looked as primary resources?  Go, grab your senior yearbook.  Go ahead.  Open it up.  Now, when your done laughing at your hairstyle, clothes or what your friend wrote over her picture, really take a look.  Yearbooks, especially a full run, whether it’s yours from Kindergarten till graduation, or a 50 year run for a school district are a treasure trove of information.  While they “attempt” to document a school year, they actually chronicle clothing and hair styles, changes in attitudes and societal influences.  Often, they document “current” events for a particular year all under the auspices of “Memories”. Best of all, they have photographs.  So, if you can remember your grandmother’s maiden name and what year she graduated, you can see a picture of her, when she was 16, 17 or 18 and just starting to make her way in the world.

While they are a reminder of your past and 18 years of your life that some people want to forget, or in my case can’t really remember, they document a society.  Currently, my yearbooks are at my parents house in New York.  But I did happen upon one or two while processing for 1995.  I am a graduate of Newfane Senior High, Class of 1995.  In looking through those yearbooks, they reminded me of mine.  Even though there is (what seems like) a gazillion miles distance between Berks County and Newfane, NY, we all had the same hair styles, clothes, and un-stylish glasses.  We all acted the same, thought about the same things; all had the same hopes and dreams that were rudely dashed upon entering college.  We all struck out into this world wanting to contribute and make something of ourselves, just like our parents (Class of 1960-something) and our grandparents (class of 1930-something).  And lets face it…we all thought we had style back then!

So, while your home visiting family this Holiday Season, break out those yearbooks.  Whether they are yours or your parents, take a look.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn or uncover within those pages that can add to a family discussion, or your research!

From all of us at the Henry Janssen Library have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH and a very safe and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Awkward Middle School Years