Tips and Tricks from the Library

I want to pass on a few helpful tips I picked up on recent trips to the library.  There are a wide variety of resources available on library websites, and in the buildings themselves (more than I realized at first).  Please recommend any other tips or resources you know of.

 1.  Journals and Databases:  I love the wide variety of topics that historic journals provide.  However, my local library may not always have a print copy on site, and I can’t always afford the subscription cost of the journal.  Fortunately, many libraries provide access to electronic versions of these journals, free of charge via their website.  Generally you will need to provide your library card information, in return you can access heaps of information from home.  Be patient with search engines, and filter through results listings, the findings can be well worth it.

2.  Use pdf downloads:  Most articles you find can be downloaded as a pdf, to be printed or moved to any device you like.

3.  Pay attention to older sources:  There are so many books that have been sitting on a shelf for years, just waiting for a curious person to pick them up.  Take some time to explore the book stacks.  Let your eyes drift among the shelves.  I have found great books on Roman architecture, Byzantine history, Civil War history and more that have not had much attention in the last decade.  Sometimes older sources can have out of date information, but often they have information that has not been reproduced elsewhere.

4.  Music:  I just very recently discovered that my library allows music downloads!  The music is yours to keep, the only limit is on how many downloads are permitted per week.  Check it out, maybe your library offers a similar service.

5.  Librarians:  These folks are the heroes that keep the whole show running.  Check in with a librarian if you are stuck on where to start for a research project, need help finding a book that seems to be missing, or just want some suggestions for good reads.  Some libraries have a service where you can mention a book you have read, and they will give you multiple books of that type to explore.  It is a great way to find cool, engaging new books and sources.

6.  Web Chats:  Many libraries offer the ability to chat with a librarian from home.  This can be great if you are looking for a few sources for a new exhibit or paper, and want them on hold at your prefered library soon.  The librarian can give you a jump-start from home.

7.  Newspapers:  With the rise of the pay wall for many newspaper websites, it can be increasingly expensive to get news from your favorite papers.  If you do not have the time to visit the library, check for digital access from their website.  Much of the time you will be able to access articles or even full papers from home.

I could fill ten posts with the cool, useful resources of libraries.  Check yours out, walk in with an open mind, and you will be sure to find something new everytime. 




Useful Historical Websites I’ve Stumbled Upon

We are in such a wonderful time for only history resources.  I remember when poorly formatted websites and questionable sources were the norm.  Now most major universities, museums, and professional organizations have online portals filled to the brim with historical treasures.  Here is a quick list of a few I’ve stumbled upon.


The Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest:

What a great resource to begin a research project.  The online portal contains lists filled with links for digital collections, history organizations, museums, state/provincial histories, and special topics of interest.  Many hours can be spent wandering down the rabbit hole, linking from page to page.  A personal favorite of mine is the Asahel Curtis Photo Company Collection.  It contains over 1700 photographs of daily life, industry, and scenic views around the Pacific Northwest.


Civil War Pathways:

A product of producing an exhibit at the Washington State Historical Society Museum, the Civil War Pathways website creates new thoughts and possibilities.  The project (and exhibit) focus on information regarding the land and people in what is now Washington State relating to the American Civil War.  Lorraine McConaghy and a team of volunteers across Washington State combed through archives, libraries, and museums to create a scanned, searchable database of their findings.  I find the best way to work through the database is using the search box, entering appropriate topics and titles.  Entries include scanned images of documents, descriptions, bibliographic information and more.  Their work saves a lot of time and energy, and will be most useful to those looking at this underserved topic.


Public History Commons:

This project by the National Council on Public History is filled with reference information, blog posts, conversations and professional development leads.  The NCPH created the website in 2012 as a place for scholars and others with an interest in the interpretation and showing of history to the public to gather and share ideas.  It is regularly updated with professional development links, interesting articles, and a additions to their growing reference library.  It is a great place to find out about new projects, ideas, and connections.



A development of the American Antiquarian Society, this website provides free scholarly articles on a variety of subjects on American history before 1900.  The goal of the site is provide a less formal location for discussing a very wide portfolio of topics, from literature to politics to architecture to economics.  It seeks also to be more formal than a popular magazine.  Overall, it is an excellent website, filled with interesting articles that are not riddled with the usual history jargon that can put off the casual reader (or exhaust the more serious one).  It has the worthy goal of providing an online presence for a text focus time period that is getting left behind as more websites become multimedia focused.  Common-Place is updated October, January, April, and July.  I recommend it to anyone looking for a good read on early American life.


I hope my readers enjoy these few websites I have found over the last few months.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions.  My aspiration is that these sources of knowledge help to inspire engaging, interesting, and just cool historical work.






Smithsonian Digital Transcription: Crowdsourcing while Relaxing

The Internet can be a wonderful place.  Knowledge, thoughts, and concepts are traded daily over the breadth of the world at speeds unheard of even 30 years ago.  The free exchange of information is one of the greatest gifts of the modern age.  Being free of the slow work of the scribe, or the drying ink of a printing press to convey data opens up projects, avenues, and goals.  Crowdsourcing is one such avenue.  Crowdsourcing, at its core, is obtaining services, ideas, and products by dispersing work amongst a large group of people.  One project using this openness and connectivity digitally is the Smithsonian Digital Volunteer Transcription Center.

Work during spare time interests me greatly.  Today, the time commitments of professional work, life, and errands seem to shred the possibility of research and historical work to atoms.  My job is not related to the history field, so any chance I get to help make history available to the public is a gift.  I stumbled upon the Smithsonian Digital Transcription project ( on twitter one day, and was immediately taken in by the ease of use.  The website invites volunteers to either help transcribe or review already transcribed documents.  Each document has been digitally scanned onto the site, and features image zoom tools, tips for transcribing/reviewing, a space for notes to other users, and even social media links.  I especially like the built in social media sharing features.  The project is definitely working to encourage volunteers to feel more like peers.  There is an emphasis on the public user’s work having a purpose.  Users are encouraged to think creatively, writing or reviewing in whatever manner they feel helps, as independant contributors, not typing robots.

First time users are directed to a helpful tutorial.  It explains in simple terms the goal of the project (research, searchability, engagement with primary sources).  It gives instruction on proper formatting for transcription, and how to review and make corrections.  Generally, any number of users may transcribe a project.  When one feels it is complete, they may mark it for review.  If the reviewer is satisfied, they may mark it complete, and send it for review by the Smithsonian.  Otherwise, any corrections made will reopen the project for editing, or if completed again, submit if for review by another volunteer.  The training provided is simple and to the point.  No difficulty should be feared diving in.

The projects pull topics from all over the world, from a naturalist’s personal correspondence to botanist notes from 1909 to vocabulary guides of enslaved African-Brazilans from the late 1830s.  I found the variety of topics prevents mental fatigue.  If I hit a road block with one project, I can skip over to another and start anew.

The work itself is quick and easy to come back to.  If I have to step away for a few hours, I can easily go right back to work, or find a new page that needs my attention.  Transcribing or reviewing can be done is as little a few minutes, whenever there is free time.  The flexibility of the project is liberating.  A volunteer does not have to stress out that they do not have an hour to devote to work right at the moment, they can work while they can.

Crowdsourcing projects like Smithsonian Digital Transcription allow the public to partake in historic research while watching Jeopardy.  People who might never have the time to venture to a library or archive are now able to travel to far off lands and make old thoughts through their work.  While the task can be a bit tricky (some projects require a careful eye for cursive), it is deeply rewarding.  Being able to contribute to public history, digital history, and document preservation is an excellent way to wind down a day.