Sunday, September 30, 2012

Doing Original Resource Research

Recently, the Steiny Road Poet had occasion to do research at the Yale Beinecke Library in New Haven, Connecticut. Pointed research of original source materials like unpublished letters and journals is not something the Poet had done before. Before embarking on the trip, the Poet tried to find out what to expect, but there is nothing like going there and getting the experience first hand. So, here is what I learned and yes, portraits of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas hang in the Beinecke reading room.


Yes, the Beinecke Library gives you some help. You should pre-register with them and line up as many as 10 archival boxes from which you want to investigate materials. You should keep a list yourself noting the name of the archive, the call number, and the box and folder numbers and notes about what you expect to find in these boxes.

It is also important to pay attention to whether the materials you want are part of the Beinecke Library or some other Yale library. For example in the Poet’s research which was centered on Gertrude Stein, the Poet was interested in seeing letters about Stein that were written by a third party to Virgil Thomson. The Thomson archive turned out to be in Yale’s Music Library. If one places the request to the Beinecke this causes a delay in getting these materials. So far, the Poet has not seen those archival boxes because she decided to stay at the Beinecke to work with the materials there exclusively.

The reason it is important to line up the boxes you want from Beinecke is because some of these materials are not stored onsite and they need several days to retrieve these materials.


Originally when the Poet was planning her trip to Yale, she thought one day would be sufficient but if that day also involves travel to New Haven, it is important to understand that the hours are limited at theBeinecke. The library is not opened on weekends. During the week, Monday through Thursday it is open 9 am to 6:45 pm but Friday only 9 am to 4:45 pm. So the Poet’s trip included travel on Wednesday with a few hours in the afternoon that day and then two additional full days. What happens as one friend warned the Poet before she went, what one find starts to point to additional resources.


Use of materials at the Beinecke is heavily monitored. On the first day you enter the library, one signs in at the front desk, then you are told how to find storage lockers where you place all the things that are not allowed in the reading room. There are two sizes of lockers. The small locker can hold a small backpack, purse, and coat. The larger locker may be able to handle a small roll bag, but the Poet was not entirely sure about that. The lockers have keys that you are allowed to carry with you even when you leave the building for lunch if you are not clearing out the locker during your lunch break.

Once your things are stored, you proceed with laptop (its power chord), your cell phone (its power chord), loose sheets of paper and several pencils downstairs to the reading room desk. There you present two picture IDs—typically driver’s license and passport. Then they point to the reading room through the glass doors and tell you that they will bring your first box on your pre-ordered list as soon as they have it. That usually takes anywhere from ten to 30 minutes on average. By the time the Poet had picked out a table and set up her laptop including plugging in its power source, the first box arrived. Subsequent boxes you must retrieve yourself and you are only allowed one box at time.

The reading room can be chilly but if you want a sweater in the reading room, you must wear it and you may not take it off. The Poet wore a multi-pocketed travel vest that was handy for carrying identification documents, tissues, power chords, smart phone, and pencils.


They will tell you at the reference desk to use your cell phone camera if you want copies of the materials you are interested in. Even if you think the letter is only remotely interesting, it is probably a good idea to take a photo of it anyhow. What often happens is that you do not know the value of what you just looked at until you see other materials. So, it is more efficient to take photos of everything rather than worry about having to go back to these materials later. However, you can turn in a box and ask the librarians to hold it until you release it at the end of your entire visit to the Beinecke. Also you can order high-resolution copies that you pay for.

Not all original source material libraries have the same rules. While Beinecke allows you to photograph their materials as long as you heed their permission rules, some libraries only allow you to take notes. Beinecke asks you to remove only one folder at a time from an archival box and to handle the materials carefully. Some libraries require you wear white gloves.

If you need to access an uncataloged archive, the resource librarians are extremely helpful and will do their best to assist you. If you find problems with any materials, you should be a good citizen and fill out a form to help them correct problems. For example, the Poet discovered the gross misspelling of a name in the Stein archive and mildewing papers in an uncataloged archive.

Because every table has its own security camera, you can leave your laptops without fear of it being stolen when you leave the reading on bathroom and lunch breaks. The restrooms and water fountains are on the same level as the reading room.

If you encounter problems with Internet access on your laptop, you can use Beinecke computers set up to search their resource materials.


When you leave the library for the day, take all your things with you. The guard outside the reading room doors will ask you to open your laptop to make sure you are not walking out with anything that belongs to the library. There seemed to be no problem with the vest, into which the Poet stuffed her power chords and pencils. Same with your locker—clear it out and leave the key.

For lunch, the Poet went to a fairly quiet restaurant on Wall Street at the corner of College Street where they had a counter to order your food and tables to sit at. She also went to the much livelier (as in noisy) Yale Commons, which is in the building next door to the Beinecke (on the left as you walk out of Beinecke). The student Commons has the appearance of a set from Harry Potter with high ceiling and long dark wooden tables. The cashier is hidden off to the right side of the huge hall where you pay a fixed price of something around $10 for as much as you want to eat from the steam tables and salad bars. The food is fresh, tasty, and plentiful. Very convenient. Sit anywhere.