Thursday, February 16, 2017

LaRC research tips

The Louisiana Research Collection holds resources on a wide variety of subjects, relating to events from the 16th to the 21st centuries.  Students in many disciplines will find archival and published items which will be relevant to their research interests.   Because of our recent strides in documenting the archival collections, through catalog records in WorldCat and Voyager, online finding aids in Archon and ArchivesSpace, and open-access digital image collections, our reference services no longer depend on anecdotal conversations from a few selectively knowledgeable individuals in the reading room, but are available directly to interested researchers via the internet.    As a cataloger of the LaRC archival collections, I’ve emphasized subject access and keyword-rich descriptions to help students happen across these excellent resources, which are available on the Tulane campus.

A good place to start research on any topic is the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library website.   To cast a wide net, you can start with a search using the large “Multiple Sources” google-like box, which will retrieve library holdings in many formats as well as articles in subscribed continuing resources.    From the main library website, you will also find the following popular resources: Classic Catalog, Databases, Journals, and Research Guides.   For many researchers, who will ultimately be most interested in physical, rather than electronic, objects and will possibly benefit from archival collections and older books, I will recommend a few bibliographic tools and databases that will be most helpful:

Classic Catalog, Advanced Search.    This is a very powerful tool to access LaRC holdings, as well as holdings in the main Howard-Tilton stacks.   You have the ability to combine search terms multiple ways, as well as to qualify by location, type, time frame, and other attributes.  Remember, subject headings cut across formats.    Because the wording of standard subject headings might sometimes seem overly strained, I recommend using Classic Catalog, Advanced, [enter your topic], pull down “all of these,” and then pull down “subject keyword.”     Repeat with multiple entries if you prefer, but don’t be overly specific at first.     The bottom half of the search offers you “Type”, from which you can click on “Archival Material” if that is what you most want, or you can leave it wide open.    Don’t give up too quickly, but make changes to the search query combination.    Special trick: Perform a classic catalog advanced search, using keyword “ssp” with “keyword anywhere” and qualify this with “Type” “Archival Material”.  Records per page 50.    Here you will receive a list of the cataloged LaRC collections which can be sorted by date, forward and backward, or alphabetically by title.   The “ssp” in this example is my initials; hopefully in the future, such a list could be derived by adding other catalogers’ initials or by doing a keyword “Louisiana” or “Tulane” or “Manuscripts”—you can use your imagination.  You can also do a Classic Catalog basic (not advanced) call number search by typing in Manuscripts Collection.  This search retrieves the cataloged LaRC collections but it's sorted in straight numerical order, numbers beginning with 1, etc., so this search is more useful if you have a known collection number.   Once you identify collections of interest, most of these catalog records includes links to an inventory, or finding aid.   For catalog records without such a link, try searching “Archives” from the LaRC website.   Preparing ahead of time for your personal visit makes the most of your time in the reading room; you can always ask for assistance from the reference staff members who supervise the room at all hours it’s open.   

Ancestry Library Edition.     Back to the Howard-Tilton web site, select Databases and find Ancestry Library Edition.   To enter this subscribed, very large set of historical databases, it is essential to go through this pathway rather than simply typing in ancestry.com in the web address, even when on campus.  All Tulane affiliates have access on campus or remotely, when using this pathway, plus guests have access to this wonderful resource by using the four guest computers in the Schiro Reading Room or elsewhere in the library.  If you are doing straightforward biographical research, Ancestry Library Edition provides the basic information you need.  In cataloging archival collections, unlike in book cataloging, we have a historical note field, so I have done quite a bit of biographical research in this process, and it’s been much more rewarding since the library subscribed to this full Ancestry database.   This resource is also the first go-to site for genealogists who frequently visit with questions about their ancestors.

Louisiana Information Sources: A Guide.   From the Howard-Tilton web site, you can arrive at this research guide by clicking Research Guides, then Louisiana, then Louisiana Information Sources: A Guide.  There are numerous electronic resources which you can access from this page.   Of great interest to anyone studying New Orleans will be the Times-Picayune and other newspapers.  Again, these are subscribed resources available to Tulane affiliates or to those using on-site guest computers.

Google.   If the person or topic you are researching has a fairly unusual or unique name or word, a straight Google search can retrieve internet mentions which may not have been retrieved by the library bibliographic tools described above.   You might find references to your research topic written by individuals in open-access internet publications or even on social media sites.  I find the google search most helpful when researching the present moment, for example, if I want to find out if a particular organization still exists today. 

Ask for advice when you are in the library— and if you have gotten all the way to the Schiro Reading Room, just ask the staff member at the reference desk about how to start.   On a personal note, I will be retiring next month, but will continue to be close by.  I would like to say that I’ve enjoyed meeting and talking with researchers, especially as they begin the process of identifying resources of special interest to them.   First-visit and freshman researchers may not have prepared in advance and need guidance to get started.  But after working with LaRC collections for the last eight or nine years, I am sure that LaRC has something for everyone.



Posted by Susanna Powers
Processed photo used with permission of the original portrait photographer, Sally Asher.

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