I probably won’t lose any sleep over this the next couple of nights, but I am plenty excited that the Austin Public Library is scheduled to roll out a new electronic catalog on Wednesday. The APL’s existing system, among other drawbacks, doesn’t wake up until 6 a.m. on weekdays, sleeps in until 10:30 on Sundays, and takes holidays off, which — given my early-to-rise “writing” schedule — means I miss out on a lot of good book-finding time.
For some reason, this reminds me of one of my favorite research stories. (What? Doesn’t everybody have these?) Nearly three years ago, I was researching a middle-grade novel — a hybrid of historical fiction and tall tale — and needed names for a pair of Mahican children.
Shortly before 6 a.m. Central time, I e-mailed a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian to ask for help. Within an hour, I’d heard back from her with a recommendation: Schmick’s Mahican Dictionary (collected, of course, by Prussian-born missionary Johann Jacob Schmick).
From there, I made a quick search of the online catalog for the UT Austin libraries and found that, yes indeed, they had it. I took an early lunch hour, and by noon I had at my fingertips more Mahican words than I could shake a stick at. (Sorry about the cliché. If only I’d thought to write down the Mahican word for “stick.)
On its own, my brief quest for those Mahican names was highly satisfying, but it was especially so considering how long such a search would have taken me in the era before e-mail and online catalogs. Not to put any pressure on the APL, but so long as my every experience with the new electronic setup is just as satisfying, I’ll be a happy man.