Visiting the library is fun, but it’s more enjoyable when you feel like you’re making some progress with your research. Here are some tips to help you have a better library visit.
1. Make a Plan
It’s easy to say, “I’m going to the library and research,” but what are you actually going to work on when you’re there? What do you want to find? Having a list of specific things you want to find will help keep you on track.
2. Make a Backup Plan
Having one plan is good; having two plans is better. I’ve had it happen that the thing I most wanted to discover – the thing that I was sure would take all day to find – was what I found in the first hour at the library. The good news was that I had the rest of the day to devote to other research; the bad news was that I didn’t have a plan beyond finding that one thing. I could have made much better use of my time if I would have had a Plan B for my day.
3. Check the Catalog Before You Go
Rather than spending your valuable on-site time looking up items in the catalog, do it before you go. Create a list of the must-look-at item, complete with call numbers. You’ll be able to hit the ground running. (Well, walking. They discourage running in most libraries.) Check out this article for tips on finding more resources in online catalogs.
4. Check the Library's Hours
Not every library is open 9am-9pm and not every library is open on Sundays. Be sure to check their current hours of operation. (I say “current” because summer hours are often different, plus smaller libraries sometimes have shorter hours around the holidays. Some small libraries even close for lunch.)
5. Explore the Library's Website
Like the catalog, don’t spend time while you’re at the library looking at their databases that you could have searched from home. I don’t mean just Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. A growing number of libraries have their own databases, like obituary indexes and digitized yearbooks. Explore those resources from home and save your on-site time for the things that aren’t online.
6. Ask for Local Advice
Some libraries and archives have visitor guides on their websites; review those before you go. Also, tap into the power of social media. Go on Facebook and ask the advice of those who research there. Target those pages and groups that are relevant to that area, such as:
- The library’s Facebook page
- The group or page for the county genealogy society
- The pages and groups for the history of the area
Katherine Willson has put together a tremendous list of genealogy pages and groups on Facebook. It’s a free download and a great resource.
A simple question such as, “I’m going to do research in such-and-so library soon. What advice do you have?” You’ll likely get practical tips such as where to go for lunch, availability of outlets for your laptop, etc.
BTW, here’s a piece of advice if you’re going to research at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne: If you’re going to look at microfilm, bring a sweater. It is freezing in the microfilm room!
What library do you want to visit? Let me know in the comments!