To the dedicated researcher, the weary college thesis writer and the sagacious knowledge seeker, this juxtaposition of words seems an oxymoron. From card catalogs to search engines, one thing has remained constant: not all information is free and readily accessible. Sometimes you must hunt for what you seek. The obscure and seemingly unsolvable puzzle cannot be solved by the click of a mouse. If it could, would it enkindle any interest? Researchers do not search for what they know; oftentimes they do not know what it is they seek. An endless array of sources deviates into branches of knowledge, brittle and winding pathways leading to euphoria and heartache.
Libraries, a researcher’s ever-constant friend, are evolving just like information access. When the New York Public Library (NYPL) proposed the use of off-site storage, authors and academics took up arms. Andrew Abbot, a sociologist at the University of Chicago lamented, ““You can’t do really cutting-edge research when, a dozen times a day, you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to get something. It’s like apes swinging through trees. When you’re swinging from vine to vine, and you reach out for the next branch and there’s no vine there, you just fall. That’s what off-site storage is like.
You can’t do research that way” (Lamster).
The question must be raised: was the vine always readily available or did you sometimes fall until hitting upon the source at a later date? My vote is on the latter. It’s preposterous to presume that all primary sources, every obscure title, and the complete written word were ever at your fingertips, or that it ever will be. Research is synonymous with exploration and investigation, terms which signify a journey. Instant gratification implies an immediate reward. As a measly History undergraduate, my thesis took 1 year, 30 plus sources, (at least) 5 libraries, and countless mind numbing, bleary-eyed, coffee-charged nights to complete.
There are doomsayers who cry the sky is falling and the end (of exactly what, I am unsure) is near. I, for one, welcome these weary Pilgrims to the House of Patience. For most libraries at my fingertips have remote stacks or Interlibrary Loan and I have lived to bear witness to this.
Lamster, M. (2012, July 20). Still here: A funny thing happened on the way to its predicted obsolescence. In METROPOLISMAG.COM. Retrieved July 21, 2012, from http://www.metropolismag.com/story/20120720/still-here