Tales from the Undergrads: The Highs of Finding Your Document

From the desk of history major Gabriela Miranda:

Before I become a History major at Eastern Illinois University, I thought studying History meant memorizing dates and learning about specific events or persons; I quickly learned that is not the case!

I have learned that studying history is about being an investigator and doing research, where thinking critically is essential, along with asking questions about new or well-known topics. Research is a collaboration process between a student and a professor. This collaboration begins early, as the first step is choosing a topic to research with the guidance of the professor. Research or the gathering of evidence commonly referred to as, primary sources (like documents, books, paintings, etc. from the time period being studied) and secondary sources (like scholarly journals, articles, books, etc. written to further explain/ provide reputable opinions about the primary source, or to present legitimate arguments about the primary source) is an exciting part of beginning a new project. Research requires time, patience, passion, hard work, effort, effective planning, and determination. Research also requires flexibility, because sometimes interests change or develop, sometimes evidence is hard to find, meaning it takes a while to find a credible and reliable source. Sometimes that credible evidence is impossible to find and that’s okay, it doesn’t mean failure, it just means that a different question needs to be asked or there needs to be a new approach to the question in order to get the right evidence. In the worst-case scenario, it means finding a new topic. This why research requires effective planning because it can be easy to feel lost or overwhelmed, but there are people who are more than happy to help the research process along, like professors and librarians.

I recently experienced the frustrating situation of not being able to find a primary source quickly, and I knew that it existed because the primary source was cited in a secondary source. I was looking for the July 2, 1887 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. I had spent about a month and half actively looking for this document, I used the scholarly reference database offered by the Mary J. Booth Library on EIU’s campus to hopefully find the source I was looking for. I am the type of person who likes to try my hardest before asking for help, so when finally decided to ask for the help of the wonderful librarians I knew I had done all I could to find this document, after all I had “googled”, searched on Bing, and other search engines and databases. It is important to know using different keywords to track a document down can change the results that appear on a page, and the librarians at EIU are amazing at helping with this but still I was coming up with nothing!

Finally on Tuesday, March 10, 2015, I was ready to give up; I had already started to think of new topics and finding potential sources to present to my professor, Dr. Lynne Curry, for my research project. That afternoon, however, I asked myself where is the one the place that houses every journal, every article, every book that has ever been published? The Library of Congress of course! I was so dumbfounded. How could I forget about the Library of Congress; I felt so silly! I quickly logged onto the Library of Congress’s website and searched for the issue only to discover that once again I couldn’t find it, but there was hope because on website there is a tab that says “Chat With A Librarian.” I thought, “no way it could be this is easy,” and clicked the tab. As it turns out, the librarian is only available from Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time and it was past 2 p.m. Central Time. So despite the fact that missed the chat time with the librarian on Tuesday, there was hope for Wednesday!

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, I logged on to http://www.loc.gov  at 1 p.m. and started a live chat conversation with a librarian named Roslyn, who in less than 15 minutes found the journal article and sent it to me via email!  It was seriously the most exciting thing to happen to me all week, like I wanted to throw a parade to let everyone know that I found my primary source! I know that my happiness seems a bit strange, but it came from my sense of accomplishment! I spent so much time looking for it and put in a lot of effort and determination to finding it and I did, with the help of a wonderful librarian, of course! Now that I found my source, I get to move on the next step of my research project, which is reading and analyzing the document!



“Welcome to the Land of Freedom.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1,659, no. 64. (July 2, 1887): 217-331.

“Welcome to the Land of Freedom.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1,659, no. 64. (July 2, 1887): 217-331.

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