I love the internet and the instant access to so much information that it provides. But when researching, there is nothing like standing on the 1 1/2 floor of the library stacks, with the weight of millions of books pressing on the air, floors and ceilings of concrete, metal stools, creaky old elevators, and the damp stench of mildew.
I’m lucky enough to work part time for a large research university, and we have five libraries on campus (that I know of). The main library, the science, the classics, the art, and the annex. Some of them are still categorized with the Dewey Decimal system.
But anyone can access the university library. If you don’t have student or staff privileges to check things out, you can still wander the stacks and spend an afternoon pouring through tomes of ancient anthropology. My favorite things about a university library are:
1) Wandering the stacks to find new sections, new shadows. I always prefer to go alone, because in addition to the sense of wonder at all those books, there’s the trill of fear and excitement that anything can happen in the library basement. Ghosts, portals to other worlds, rape, murder – no one would hear me scream. I might turn a corner and next to that book on Greco-Roman mosaics is a splatter of fresh blood.
2) I can check out books for years. No, really. I’ve had Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition by Helen Damico since January of 2007. (Don’t worry, if anyone else wants it, they can request it and I’ll give it back! After I remove the 254 sticky notes.)
3) Where else can one find out of print books featuring archaeological perspectives on prehistoric Scandinavian burial ritual? For free?
4) Sometimes I turn a corner and find (instead of fresh blood) a title that pops out at me, that I’d never come across otherwise. (The last time this happened it was Dying for the Gods : Human Sacrifice in Iron Age & Roman Europe by Miranda Aldhouse Green. It was shelved with some random pagan books, not archeology or anthropology where I’m used to searching.)
The university library doesn’t have all the latest fiction, but when it comes to information and perspectives on humanity, when it comes to what Byron himself wrote about Ms. Shelly’s horror-story or Pliny the Younger’s version of the fall of Pompeii, there’s no better place. If you live near a university, GO! Research!