June 10, 2019

Libraries Are a Writer's Best Friend

There are a lot of resources out there for writers, from helpful websites to books to workshops, but the oddly overlooked one, in this day and age, is libraries. I'll chock this up to people assuming they can find everything they need on the internet (which, to be fair, is mostly true) or to thinking that libraries and physical books are passé (which is blatantly false). Sadly, many writers—who, if they do well, will have their books in libraries someday—don't understand how much libraries can offer them, for free.

Non-Book Resources

First and foremost, libraries have the internet. And yes, most people don't care, because they have their own, but not everyone does, and not all the time. If you're a poor writer who can't afford your own internet and really don't want to use up your data for a hotspot, go to your library. This is also true if, like me, your internet sometimes decides not to exist. Though this usually happened when I was a student, it could happen to any writer, at any time of the day and night. Now you might be thinking that libraries are closed at night, but that doesn't matter for wi-fi. I have sat in the parking lots of two different libraries at around midnight, using their wi-fi to submit last minute assignments when my home internet kicked out (don't judge me!). The point is, all those writing resources available on the internet are therefore available at your library through their wi-fi.

And there are computers. Did I mention that libraries offer free computer use? You don't even need a card (though you usually need some type of ID, even student ID). If you find yourself without a computer for some reason, go to your library. They also have printers, copiers, and scanners, should you need that for printing out drafts or working on cover art. Your library also has subscriptions to online databases, like encyclopedias (because we've all fallen down the wiki-walking rabbit hole at one time or another, and sometimes we just want something short and dry) or old newspaper scans.

Ah, but what if you need a human being to talk to? There are always the librarians, who will attempt to answer any question you have. Nothing is too esoteric or weird or random. No, really, try us. We've heard things you can't imagine. We've seen things. You wouldn't think that you'd encounter that much human blood when working in the library, but... I digress (and no, I am not joking!). My point is, you're not going to shock or annoy us if you need us to look up books about soviet psychic research or have to know who started some revolution in an obscure country or need help printing out the entire first draft of your novel. We're literally there to help you. We're happy to do it.

Some libraries also offer writing workshops, mini-book festivals, or author panels. My own library has an ongoing writers group that meets every other week at a coffee shop downtown. We were also fortunate enough (and by fortunate, I mean one of the librarians worked hard and got a grant) to get two Writers in Residence this year. For those of you who don't know, a Writer in Residence is an author who works for a short time at the library and is available to help patrons. Along with hosting special programs, such as one on flash fiction or one focusing on blogging tips, our Writers in Residence also run a lunch-time group every week where writers can come and talk, write to prompts, work on their own WIPs, and just hang out. It's a great way to get out of your own head, meet other people, and learn different techniques. Consider asking your local librarians if they could create a writing program or get a Writer in Residence in the future. You'll be glad you did.

Book Resources

But, of course, one could not have a library without books (it would just be a "-ry"), but all the books in the world don't do a person much good if they can't find what they're looking for. First and foremost, let me again say talk to your librarian. They know where everything is, and what a library has to offer.

One resource that you might not have considered is writing magazines, such as Poets and Writers and Writer's Digest. Even if your library doesn't have physical copies of these (which they probably do, as well as back issues), they likely have a subscription to them online.

Another handy resource is Writers Market. For those of you who don't know, Writer's Market is a guide for people wanting to get traditionally published. It updates every year, so it's got current listings of agencies and publishers, what they accept, and how to contact them. It's really helpful, but kind of pricy for a book that's only accurate for a few years. Luckily, your library has a copy. Or they can get a copy at your request. Our library buys each volume as a continuing resource, and also has the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. For those of you looking to traditionally publish, I highly recommend you take a look at this book.

And then there are the regular old books, which I would divide into two categories: books on writing and books for research. That first category includes "How to Write X", where X is every genre and format under the sun: thrillers, romance, children's books, memoirs, sci-fi, and so on. There are also guides such as Forensics and FictionCareers for YourCharacters, and The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West. These oddly specific books can be helpful to those of us writing genre fiction who want to be accurate without spending months on research.

But I love spending months on research, which is why I've become familiar with the weirder sections of the library, such as true crime, parapsychology, forensics, and folklore. How deep into book research anyone wants to go is up to them. Your library likely has broad resources—an encyclopedia of psychic phenomena, for example—as well as narrow, niche books—one focusing on the CIA's Stargate program, for instance. A tip I offer is to not shy away from juvenile nonfiction. Sometimes these books offer a nice overview of a topic without spending 500 pages on it. They also tend to focus on some of the weirder details that are of interest to writers and not researchers.

Finally, I offer you this handy list of Dewey Decimal Numbers that might be of interest to writers, broken down vaguely by what genre you're writing and what you want to research. Note that if the number ends in "0", I mean the entire section, so "130" means "130 to 139.9999". Happy researching!

General writing
  • Publishing - 070.5
  • How-to writing guides - 808

Mysteries, thrillers, detective fiction, etc:
  • Forensics - 363.25 and 614.1
  • True Crime - 364
  • Secret Societies - 366

Fantasy, magical realism, horror, supernatural, etc:
  • UFOs, Bigfoot, Conspiracy Theories, etc - 001.94
  • Psychics, Magic, Ghosts, etc - 130
  • Secret Societies - 366
  • Folklore, Mythical Creatures, etc - 398

Science Fiction:
  • Astronomy - 520
  • Physics - 530
  • Chemistry - 540
  • Paleontology - 560
  • Space Travel - 629.4

Historical Fiction:
  • Costume / Historical Clothing - 391
  • Ancient History - 930
  • European History - 940
  • Asian History - 950
  • African History - 960
  • North American History - 970
  • South American History - 980
  • History of Pacific Islands - 993-996

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