Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Research nostalgia

I'm going to make myself seem old now (I'm only 30!).

When I first started seriously writing in 1995 or so, the Internet existed, but for me it might as well not have.  In 1996 or 1997 we got dial-up AOL (With a 1400 bps modem!) but it was mostly useful for talking to strangers in chat rooms.  In case your parents have ever warned you, "Don't trust anyone you meet online! You don't know who they are!" I am in a way the person they warned you about, though in this case I was a 14 year old girl pretending to be older people, not older creepy people pretending to be a 14 year old girl.

Back on subject: For me, the Internet was useless for research until some point in high school, and with the resources I had available, it wasn't really helpful until college (2002 if you're paying attention).

I had a set of World Book Encyclopedias, as many Time Life series as I could afford (What Life Was Like, etc.), and any book I happened to find at the Concord Bookstore (no Amazon yet) that looked useful.  I rarely used the library for research.  I was intimidated by it, and since I was a self-conscious adolescent/teenager, I felt stupid asking for help to find something.  I was an adult before I realized most librarians are thrilled when a teenager comes in and politely asks for help to find a book.

When I wanted to describe what a character in Ancient Rome was wearing on her feet, it was a headache to find.  What kind of instrument might Kaleo have been able to play in France in 1000 AD? Did France exist? Where else might I put him? What was going on at 1000 AD? Crusade, Inquisition, famine, plague? How did people live? Any one of those questions might take hours or even days to answer.

Today I wanted to know what to call a group of ducks.  It's a simple question.  Back in 1997, I would have gone with "flock" because a passing reference is not worth a trip to the bookstore for a book on ducks, and if it's not in the Encyclopedia I wouldn't know where else to look.

Today, I wrote a quick Tweet because I thought it was an amusing question and then Googled.  My first responses said what a group of ducks is called in the air or on water, but my ducks were on land, so I had to do about 2 minutes more work.  Once I picked a word I liked, I Googled that too, just to make sure my first source was correct (it turns out "sord" is only used for mallards).

For anyone curious, you can visit this site:

I still do paper research when I want a lot of detail on a subject, though these days I have a car so I can go to stores or libraries when I want, or I can go on Amazon and find specific sources, which usually have reviews saying things like "this is a really useful, well-researched book" or "this author is full of crap and no one should trust anything s/he says."  In between, there's Google, and the millions of sites on the Internet that are available for a researcher with some common sense and education on how to pick a source.

Now excuse me, I need to get back to my waddling of ducks.

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