Friday, March 23, 2012

Chasing the past

It sometimes is both useful and pleasant to look way back via magazine articles. We may learn either that how people behave has stayed much the same, or that how they live has changed greatly.

On Sunday I blogged about how lack of organization can ruin a speech, and mentioned a humorous article from 1927. In Tuesday’s blog post I mentioned a 1930 article by Alfred E. Smith. Both magazine articles came from bound volumes on the shelves at the Boise Public Library.

I found them by looking under the subject of public speaking in the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. It is an index to periodicals of general interest by author and subject. Reader’s Guide began publication back in 1890 under another title. Entries in the Reader’s Guide are very terse, so it’s simple to write them down. After collecting several it’s time to locate the magazines and find the articles. They might either be in bound volumes on shelves, or microfilm in drawers (either on rolls of microfiche cards). After skimming an article, I can decide whether to copy it or print it out.

This old-time style of research takes far longer than working online with full-text databases. Once you get more than about thirty years back it may be the only way to find some information.

Reader’s Guide also was turned into a database sold in several flavors. I found one called Reader’s Guide Full Text at the Boise State University Library. Older stuff is in a subset called Reader’s Guide Retrospective that covers from 1890 to 1982.

The image of a boy came from a poster at the Library of Congress web site.

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