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Authored by Cindy LaPenna, the Head of Reference in a public library. She is the author of the book Around Bangor, a pictorial history of the Pennsylvania town she grew up in. She has had news and feature articles published in various newspapers, and her poetry has been published in Poetic Voices, A Common Sense, Perigee-Art, and the International War Veterans Poetry Archive.
Before writers write they do research.
Research can be a daunting task, especially for beginners. Even with the availability of online resources, you may still find yourself asking, “Where do I begin to find the information I need?”
Most library research is done through the Reference Department, so talk to the Reference Librarian on your next library visit. Don’t overlook this step, even if you think you can navigate the library on your own. Maybe you can but not everything is readily visible to the visitor. Librarians are trained professionals, and they are there to help you.
Try to be as specific as possible when speaking with the librarian. Instead of saying, “I’m looking for information on writing children’s books,” try saying, “I’m a freelance writer who needs information on how to write children’s books. I’ll need to know how to format my manuscript and need a list of publishers.”
If the librarian asks questions of his or her own, resist the urge to get annoyed or assume that he or she doesn’t understand you. Most likely, they are just trying to determine the best sources, which can be several in number and can be in various forms such as books, magazines, or subscription databases.
Keep in mind that while librarians are information experts, they are not geniuses in every field and don’t know every book ever published. They may not be able to tell you how to write the perfect query letter, but they should be able to direct you to the sources that can help.
Most libraries carry the “bibles” of the writing industry, such as Writer’s Market and Literary Market Place—two directories that contain contact information of publishers. Books In Print, which tells you just that, is helpful for market research, and The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature will tell you what subjects have been covered in magazines. Beyond these basics most libraries have other sources all writers need from time to time, such as dictionaries, thesauruses, books of quotations, and books on grammar and the craft of writing.
To avoid frustration and disappointment—or worse, missed deadlines—don’t wait until the last minute to do your research or request materials.
Research, by its very nature, takes time and sustained effort.
Even if the library owns what you want, it might be checked out by someone else, or there could be restrictions involved with lending certain materials.
Most libraries today “share” their resources as part of a bigger network, so even if your library doesn’t own what you need, they might be able to get it elsewhere in a relatively short period of time.
In all likelihood you will need to become a patron (a card-carrying member) in order to take advantage of all services, so bring official identification with you, such as a driver’s license. Allow yourself time to determine what you need and what’s available, and give yourself, the library staff, and your career a chance to shine.
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