Memoir Research and Libraries: Getting the Most From Your Library Research

Libraries are an important source of information for the memoir writer. They provide an immense and available resource to help you improve your writing as well as clarifying and discovering facts and information. Research can be a time consuming activity so it’s important to do some preparation before you hit the library steps.

Which Library?

Find out the libraries that are in your vicinity. Are there any that have a special interest in the area you are going to write on? Don’t limit yourself to your local library, do some research into museums, special interest libraries, and special interest groups. These are all possible sources of potentially relevant material for your research.

Many libraries are on-line, so it’s possible you can start searching through their catalog before you even physically go there.

Librarians are a Researcher’s Best Friend

Librarians can be a great support; while they are not there to do your research for you, they can guide you towards the right section and the right books. If you want help from the librarian contact them in advance with your request. This will give them more time to help you especially if the library is busy on the day you plan to visit.

Understand the Library Catalog

Most libraries will have some form of catalog, usually on-line. Some smaller libraries may work on card systems. Before you start browsing through books spend some time reviewing the catalog. This can help you focus on the titles that are related to your area of interest. Familiarise yourself with how the cataloguing systems works; if it’s confusing seek help from the library assistants. Understanding the catalogue is a much more efficient way of quickly finding relevant material than looking through shelves of books.


Special Interest Groups

Some special interest groups have their own libaries and museums and not all are open to the public. Do some research into relevant groups and establish some contacts. Many are happy to open their doors to genuine researchers.

Planning in Advance

Some libraries, such as the British Library and other copyright libraries (Imperial War Museum, National Maritime Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, University and Museum libraries), require visitors to obtain a reader’s ticket. Temporary day tickets may be available but it is advisable to contact the library in advance.

Don’t forget that libraries often offer a range of material beyond books: newspapers, magazines, journals, maps, videos, dvds, news footage to name but a few. Your librarian can be an important friend to the researcher, if you explain to them some background to your research they may be able to provide you with a variety of sources, some you may not have previously considered.