The Undervalued Library Card

I still have the library card my mom got for me back when I couldn’t even talk yet.  My mother is THE biggest reader and lover of books I have ever met.  She stays up all night with book in hand, immersing herself into the world of the characters.  I am also a reader.  But as a private investigator, I’ve discovered that my local library is not simply a book haven.  It is so much more.

Public libraries are one of the most underutilized resources today, especially in our technology, social media, online-infused world.  Why trek all the way to my local library when I can sit at home in front of my computer with access to Google and other search engines that can pretty well answer any question that comes to mind?  I’ll tell you why.

Local libraries typically house some of the deepest and most specific information you can find.  Period.  It is not just a free resource for book after wonderful book for pleasure reading.  It is a free pathway to databases that house archived newspaper copies, reference librarians with knowledge that shames even the most educated, unknown computer resources, reference books, directories, and more.

Often, your local public library offers commercial services that give you access to archived newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and newswires.  As a private investigator, if I am trying to track down historical information, I often find myself at the library or utilizing the online services provided by libraries everywhere.  Adoption-related searches might have me searching for a newspaper birth announcement, an obituary, or some other news article.  The family history section holds a wealth of information for genealogical purposes.  People searches might require an Ebsco Host, ProQuest, or Lexis Nexis search, which are all accessible to me free of charge at my local library.

Don’t even get me started on the wealth of knowledge possessed by reference librarians.  They can be a researcher’s secret weapon.  At your next library visit, if you simply ask a reference librarian what information they can direct you to, you will be mighty surprised at their lengthy answer.  Reference librarians are the secret keepers.  The ultimate reference guide.  The door to a portal of knowledge.  Find them, friend them, use them, and appreciate them.

Before I was a private investigator, I thought of reference books as books necessary for the research part of research papers.  I never knew the amount of reference books available and how helpful they could be for me in my work.  For example, Patterson's American Education lists addresses of all colleges, universities, junior colleges, high schools, grammar schools, and private schools in the United States, listed by state and city.  The Encyclopedia of Associations lists religious organizations, labor unions, sororities, fraternities, trade, business, commercial, social welfare, cultural organizations, and more.  You can find rolls of membership and other valuable information.

By way of directories, the Cole Directory and Polk Directory are probably the most well known.  They both can typically be found at most public libraries and provide local address and phone number information.  You can get neighbor names and information, name of spouse, occupation, place of employment, and whether an individual is a renter or an owner.  There are also hundreds of directories available for businesses and professionals in commerce, service, and manufacturing.

Our local public libraries aren’t the only libraries available to us.  There are law libraries, university libraries, state libraries, Library of Congress…  check them out.  The information held in our libraries is, sadly, an untapped resource for many.  If you don’t have a library card, get one and start exploring.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.