10 cool library maneuvers for writers
Published: November 12, 2003
|Even ordinary library services give writers a leg up on Web-only researchers. But there are many less-obvious library moves to better your writing life. Here is a sampling.|
1. Go beyond the open stacks for ideas Through gifts or somebody's private passion, most libraries have acquired special collections on fascinating topics. Though shelved separately, they are always available for exploration. Ask about them. Often, these troves unlock the kinds of secrets and offbeat stories that make for sales.
2. Stretch local options Your public library is likely one of many libraries in your locale, some of them possibly superior for what you seek. Ask at the reference desk for The American Library Directory, which describes all types of libraries in each city and their special holdings. You'll be amazed. Modest-sized Peoria, Ill., for example, has at least 18 libraries, including those specializing in history, religion, agriculture, medicine and law. Most such libraries welcome anyone with a relevant project; many higher-education libraries are required by law to serve state citizens.
3. Exploit the big-ticket databases Libraries subscribe to powerful, high-end databases that, within their fields, are more comprehensive and organized than anything on the Web. On the Chicago Public Library's free terminals, for example, users can explore the Biography and Genealogy Master Index, ProQuest magazine and newspaper indexes, Statistical Universe (162,000 writing jobs are projected for 2010!), and dozens more. A sneaky one for writers is Books in Print, where authors can check wholesaler stocks of their books.
4. Unveil the whole market No need to steal bookstore glances at market guides such as The Writer's Handbook and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents when you can huddle with them all day at the library. But there are many other market sources here for the ambitious: Literary Market Place, listing book publishers, agents, awards and more; Ulrich's Periodicals Directory, describing thousands of magazines by subject; Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, arranged by town for pitching your local angles; and specialized guides for poets, screenwriters, children's writers, genre writers, etc.
|5. Use the Web to use the library What an age we live in! From your home computer, you can search the online catalogs of thousands of libraries worldwide, including your local branch. A fine site with links to library home pages and catalogs is LibWeb (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/libweb). Usually, you can reserve materials online from your local library and use several of its premium databases from home. Many library Web sites accept book-purchase suggestions. Got any? |
6. Find library holdings of your work A massive database offered by libraries is WorldCat, the closest thing to a catalog of all U.S. libraries combined. Look up a book and see how many libraries have reported owning a copy, with a detailed tally for your state.
7. Get library expertise online Want to try a Web guide organized by library experts? Go to Librarians' Index to the Internet (http://lii.org). In addition, numerous library Web sites give reference assistance, including live help. For a list with links, see LiveRef (www.public.iastate.edu/~CYBERSTACKS/LiveRef.htm). Often, these services are 24/7, as with California's Ask Now (www.asknow.org). Check with your library for local services like Cleveland Public Library's stellar Know It Now (www.knowitnow24x7.net). Among sites serving all comers is the award-winning Internet Public Library (www.ipl.org/div/askus), where volunteer librarians direct questions or try to answer them within three days.
8. Join or start a writers group at the library Some 20 percent of public libraries house regular writing workshops. A great many more offer writing activities, and virtually all are amenable to new writing groups. Libraries also cosponsor such national programs as the American Library Association/Woman's Day "Put It In Writing @ Your Library."
9. Use the library to promote your work Just ask. Libraries are probably the number-one forum for author presentations, offering a better, less-intimidating setup than bookstores. Library Friends groups often help sponsor the events.
10. Back the library cause Even if you never use libraries, you can help the writing cause by backing library-funding referendums, library freedom-to-read issues, and children's and young-adult services. If there is one last stronghold of unbiased information, lifelong learning, reading and literary art in our culture, you won't find it on Google--unless you're looking up "library."
--Posted Nov. 12, 2003