Research for Writing

Research for writing is one of my favorite things. I can sit at the computer for hours digging deeper and deeper into the knowledge on the web relating to any topic. What car would have been available in 1940? In what colors? Did the windows open? Was there a bucket seat or bench option? What does it look like along the road from one place to another? Weather on any date in modern history? I can do this all day.

When I was young, however, information was found exclusively in books and printed periodicals. My grandfather gave us updated sets of the World Book Encyclopedia throughout my childhood. There was always a hefty dictionary on our bookshelf, as well. I had the luxury of doing a certain amount of research at home. To look beyond the encyclopedia or dictionary, we had to go to either the school or public library to get an encyclopedia reference or use the reference section to find resources.

At some point, probably in mid-high, I learned to access information using microfiche and microfilm. I loved these machines. I would check out newspapers on microfilm. They came in little folders stored carefully in wide drawers in the back of the library. To find the exact newspaper on a certain date, you looked in an index books. There were dozens and dozens of indexes. You could search for a name, location, subject, or topic. Then, you requested the microfiche you needed. These resources were valuable, and well guarded by librarians.

Each slip of photographic film was printed with tiny images arranged in a grid. Each small rectangle was the page of a newspaper or periodical. The film was placed between panes of thick glass on a reader. The process was very satisfying, but slow. To retain a copy of the materials you needed, a copy had to be made. Usually, this cost a quarter. You had to be using a microfiche reader with a copier attached. I still remember the chemical smell of the warm paper as it came out of the machine.

Today’s access to the internet is a wonder to those of us who learned to do research old school style.

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