5writers.com welcomes Kate Neff to the site this month! Kate has worked in the library setting for over 15 years, from the public library, to colleges, to the public school system. It’s hard for her to say which is her favorite, but there is never a dull day no matter which kind of library one works at. She is an aspiring writer herself and admires the dedication of writers like you.
Research Tips From A Librarian by Kate Neff
Hi writers, this is a librarian speaking! I’m here to help you! All of your friendly local librarians are here to help you with your writing, actually. We live to serve, and we especially love writers since you all love books just as much as we do. Now, you probably already frequent your local library to check out books to read for pleasure, and you may even come by to check out the latest edition of those nifty guides to getting published. But we have even more to offer to help you get that short story or novel written and published. I mentioned the guides to getting published, which are great to check out from the library instead of buying a new one each year. Those things can be expensive! Let us spend the money. We also have wonderful books that can help you with your writing, including specialty ones for children’s authors and illustrators and graphic novelists. Of course, each library is different, so take a minute to browse your local library’s catalog online, or better yet, come in and ask one of us for help and take an afternoon browsing the stacks and setting up at a table to do your research. It’ll make you feel quite scholarly. You can tap into your inner Hermione Granger.
There are so many great books that can help you with your character development, plot lines, and grammar, but also remember there are numerous books available that can help you with your research. If you’re writing a historical piece, check out the biographies, history books, or atlases and maps. And don’t think you can’t visit a university or college library—oftentimes you can. Most universities are more than willing to help members of the public, especially if you let them know you’re a writer and need help with your research. Maybe you want to write a dystopian novel with a brilliant mathematician or physicist as your main character, but you know nothing about quantum physics or anything mathematic beyond a vague memory of the quadratic equation. That’s where we can help! Most libraries have extensive math and science book collections that can break these complicated concepts down for you. Those “Idiots Guide to…” books can be extremely useful in cases like this. If you’re really mathematically challenged, go to the children’s section. They have great books meant to help kids do their science fair projects, and guess what, they can help you, too. These books do a great job of simplifying complicated concepts, so don’t be afraid to venture to the other side of the library for extra help with complex ideas.
Also keep in mind that libraries have great online databases and resources that are very costly, but are free to you with your library card. My local library has a subscription to Ancestry.com, which is free for patrons to use. This would be great if you’re doing a historical novel or a non-fiction piece and need to do some research but don’t want to have to pay. Along this vein, there are numerous historical databases that have primary documents like letters and pictures, which can be so amazing to view and can inspire some great stories. It’s so cool to see how people used to write, and how they used to dress, so keep this in mind for research and inspiration. There are also often art databases, in case you’re doing a historical setting or maybe some kind of heist book where a major piece of art is stolen. Wouldn’t it be great to get to see this piece of art close-up? These databases allow you to zoom in on a piece and study every little brushstroke. That’s definitely not something you would normally ever get the chance to do. The best thing about the databases is that you can access them 24/7 and from home, so when that late night inspiration hits you, you don’t have to wait for those library doors to open, you can get to work while the muse speaking to you.
Many public libraries host writers’ groups, which if you’re not in one, is something you should really consider. This is a great way to meet other local writers and bounce ideas off each other and help promote one another’s works. I’ve seen really strong and successful writers’ groups, and I’ve seen little ones where no one has been published yet, but they all provide a sense of community for their members. Stronger writers can help mentor new or struggling writers, and sometimes just being around other writers can inspire you and give you fresh energy for your current or next project. There is strength in numbers, and these writers’ groups are wonderful for helping promote each other’s work and spreading the word to help sell your books. If you’re a very new writer and maybe a little intimidated by the thought of a writers’ group, consider checking to see if your library has writing workshops periodically. I’ve seen programs like “writing your story,” “getting started writing that first novel,” “memoir writing for beginners,” and similar programs that are always free and open to the public. These are usually lead by a more seasoned writer, so you’ll get that sense of mentorship without the pressure of needing to be more than a true beginner.
And don’t forget, sometimes the best research and inspiration comes from simply reading. A lot. We’re the best place to indulge your reading whims because everything is free. You can read classics, new bestsellers, graphic novels, manga, picture books, YA (the hottest thing going right now, isn’t it?), and of course tons of non-fiction titles including biographies of your favorite people. There are also magazines and newspapers if you feel like lighter reading. So please, come visit us at your local library. We love writers and we love to help. Just make sure to thank us in your acknowledgements when that first novel gets published.
Pedro Menendez High School
St. Augustine, FL