As part of the research for my latest project, I’ve been closely scouring the Washington Post from the mid-1950s on. While doing research at the Library of Congress last year, one of their typically awesome librarians helpfully steered me away from the microfiche and over to the online resource ProQuest.
If you’re not a research nerd, I’ll explain. ProQuest is a database made up of tons of different newspapers — the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor , to name just a few — with every page scanned into a pdf file. You can pull up a full page, look it over, and if you see something you want to read, you simply click on the article and a new pdf file will pop up with the article on it all by itself. Everything is clickable, from the crossword puzzle to the comics to the ads.
But what makes the system really useful is that you can type in search words — like the name of your subject, for example — hit RETURN, and the search engine scours all the pdfs for your search terms. That saves you from having to crank through a microfilm, scanning for an article or headline — the sort of thing that makes me motion sick when I do it for hours on end.
Anyhow, as I’ve been writing my sample chapters for my latest project, there have been times when I’ve wished I could get back into the ProQuest system to look some things up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get down to the Library of Congress to log into their system.
Finally, I decided to see if my local library might at least have old microfilm of the Washington Post that I might be able to use, so I got onto the website of my county library to do a bit of poking around.
To my surprise, our county library system has ProQuest access to a few newspapers, including the Washington Post. Not only that, you don’t even have to come in to the library to use it. If you’ve got a library card (and I do), you can use your card’s ID number to log into the system from home. Fantastic, and just what I needed.
So, consider this a shout out for a job well done, Montgomery County Public Libraries. Just another reason to love your local library — and if you haven’t visited your local library in a while, or poked around on its website, go ahead and do so. They won’t mind a bit.