Last week I went down to New York for a day and a half to do research for the novel I tell people I’m working on. It was a really illuminating experience for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I don’t really know what doing research with primary documents entails. For a library school student at a college that boasts a huge archives program, I’ve never really been in an archives, so stepping into Schomburg was new for me. And then I’ve also never done research to write a novel before, not having finished a long narrative work since the novel I wrote when I was 12 (I think it was 54 pages, single spaced, which is actually not all that bad). But I’m in the school of fake it til you make it, so I was all prepared to fake it.
Fake it I did. But I felt rather awkward. The biggest two things I’ve learned in library school thus far are that everyone is excited that you’re in it until you ask working librarians for help/interviews/jobs, and then they stop being interested in you, and also that you can’t work in a library unless you’ve already worked in a library/you can’t know how to use an archives unless you already know how to use it. And that’s exactly what happened at Schomburg–I’m sure it’s not on purpose, but archivists tend to kind of look at you like you’re a jackass for not knowing how to behave in an archives, but really that’s absurd, because it’s not even a library, so it’s not exactly like you learned the proper usage of one back in elementary school. Anyway, I figured it out, got my temporary NYPL card (!), and found out that the sound archives I requested weren’t there yet, but that I could go upstairs and look at the rest of the stuff I wanted. Continue reading