The Old-Fashioned Way

One of the casualties of today’s search engine based technology is research. Writers think that if they plug a few keywords into Google and press enter, then voila! They have all the research they need, without having to leave the comfort of one’s home office/Barca-lounger/bed.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

A few months ago, I stumbled across a TED Talk on search engine filtering. Apparently engines such as Google and Yahoo store data culled from your browsing habits, and begin to sort and select information based on your location, your visited sites, and anything else they feel might more target you demographically.

What this means is that you are not being provided with an open array of information and material; instead, material is edited according to your location, gender and age.

Let’s not even talk about how Wiki data can be altered by anyone with the urge – or the agenda – to do so.

When I was little, dinosaurs ruled the earth, and the web was nothing more than something that shot out of Spidey’s fingers. We had this fascinating method of obtaining information for our fourth grade papers on evolution. We went to the library.

“What’s a library?” you ask. Oh, my darlings. You are so precious.

A library is a building, a public institution, that is filled with books. Books are these objects that do not select information based upon your demographic. They are there, filled with stories, with articles, with words, available to anyone capable enough to pick them up and turn the pages.

Instead of search engines, libraries have this thing called a periodical index, where you search through the index, in alphabetical order, for your keyword, then lo! and behold, before you is every single item published within that year about your subject. You make your list, and scamper merrily over and immerse yourself in the world of microfiche, spending the rest of the day in front of antiquated, croaking machinery, scrolling through rolls and rolls of film, getting your inner geek on.

The beauty of this method of research is that you are truly doing focused research, zeroing in on your target, without the distractions of email, Skype, IM, Facebook, Tweetdeck feeds and internet porn.

It’s also engaging. It’s one thing to stare at a computer screen for hours on end; it’s quite another to physically labor for your fruits, to search for your materials, to select your books, to hold old newspapers, to scroll through centuries of research, articles and musings of others. It’s tactile. The smell of the books. The hush of the library. The synapses fire on overtime; hours later, you emerge exhausted – and exhilarated.

I love libraries. The Downtown Central library here in Los Angeles is a favorite haunt of mine. It’s a short ride on the subway to Pershing Square, then a few blocks walk up Hill Street. For those of you who still cannot grasp the concept of a what a library is, it’s that building where Nic Cage hung out in City of Angels. No, not the hospital. The other one.

I don’t understand the overall attitude people have towards downtown L.A. It’s beautiful. Stunning architecture, towering buildings, incredible eateries, busy people milling by. It’s richly populated, culturally diverse. It’s smart. It’s a city. There are days when I venture down there just to walk the streets and take in the sites. Downtown L.A. is alive.

So, the next time you need to tackle a subject, do yourself – and your story – a favor. Get off your rear and haul yourself to your local public library. I can assure you that your research will be more accurate and more rich than from anything sourced on the net. And, you might just learn something.

Next entry, the other old-fashioned way of doing things – In the Flesh.

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

About princessscribe

Screenwriter. Creator of things. I love tacos. "Midlife on Fire" Volumes 1 & 2 now available at
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17 Responses to The Old-Fashioned Way

  1. joe hanzlik says:

    Well said, I grew up haunting libraries in my youth and since the web my backside has been firmly planted in the chair in front of my computer. Great motivator to revisit the Periodic Index and their green covered bindings in an actual library and do rudimentary research. Way to go, princess.


  2. As a former librarian, and now an aspiring screenwriter ( at the University of Illinois Graduate Library – a monolith of recorded information :>) ) I totally agree with you. There is nothing like finding some “hard copy” of information, that perhaps only you have touched in the last 100 years, that changes the course of a story (or your life), forever.


  3. Note – former librarian at the U of I, as far as I know, they do not yet employ aspiring screenwriters :>)


  4. I think you guys already have the makings of a film! 🙂


  5. Bryan says:

    My wife is a librarian, and I know she appreciates your thoughts. We visited my hometown library a few months ago, and one of my favorite memories to re-tell her was about the cool factor of the Periodical Guide.


  6. Jan Militello says:

    My reply will be surprisingly similar to Sandy’s…As a former librarian turned screenwriter (graduate degree obtained at the University of Illinois — one of the thrills I recall while doing research using the U of I archives was holding original correspondence between pioneering librarian Katharine Sharp and Andrew Carnegie) I couldn’t agree more. I am at my local public library on a nearly daily basis picking up and returning interlibrary loans for research.


  7. I have 6 books and a DVD checked out now as I research Dolley Madison and her role during the War of 1812. I’ve been stumbling over them for weeks. 🙂


  8. What?! There is porn on the Internet? Now i’m going to actually start using the damn thing.

    …what was that you were saying about books or something?


  9. Frank Wood says:

    When in a library, I am in my kingdom. Books are my wise councilor, my court jester, my brave champion, and rest of my entire realm. All may be instantly beckoned through my loyal liaison, Dewey. I too like the way (most) libraries smell and the ambiance of knowledge, especially on rainy days. I also agree that information found there is generally more reliable and, more importantly, extensive than Google or Wikipedia.
    However, since I first worked with computers in the ’90s, I have envisioned the exciting prospect that the Internet could one day be, if not a replacement for libraries, an important adjunct to the quest for accurate information. I still believe the free access to reliable and verified facts online will some day equal libraries. Libraries already have public computers for those who can’t afford them. I am hopeful academia will address this and other issues concerning the consistency of public information in the future.
    Another angle worth mentioning on research, especially historical or incident-based research, is the live interview. Even books can’t always tell the writer a character’s favorite color, the cause of his aversion to barbers and socks, or his annoying personal habits while formulating the Theory of Relativity. Such details are always important for adding realism to a story. When it comes to undocumented details, I have found that reality is not only stranger than fiction it is also always more profound than the greatest imagination. Of course, an interview with the waiter at the Last Supper or with Napoleon’s barber, could they even be located, would tend to be a bit one-sided.


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