History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 April 2007

Get Thee to a DECENT Library!

I’m not a very good researcher. When this blog was first proposed, I was a little skeptical about my qualifications. Sure, I write historical romance; I LOVE historical romance. But research? Wellll. . .

Kalen Hughes wasn’t buying it. "Just blog about your process! The heroine of To Tempt a Scotsman starts the book in boys’ clothes. Talk about the research you did into nineteenth-century women who dared to wear men’s clothing." Errrr. . . Research. Right. Well, some of my favorite romance novels of the past put women in boys’ clothes. And I was aware that there were actual historical figures who did this, George Sand for one. But mostly I just love the gimmick of it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t change the mores of mid-nineteenth century England to do it. The heroine isn’t being sassy or cute. She’s thumbing her nose at a world that’s already branded her a harlot. Being scandalous is a self-defense mechanism against the scorn she’s already suffered for her behavior. And the hero doesn’t think it’s charming. He finds her behavior shameful, as does the rest of society. So the fun of it is, we get to start at the low point of the relationship and work our way up!

But anyway, back to research. When Kalen said this to me, it only freaked me out further. "I’m a poser! A complete amateur! I’ll embarrass the other Hoydens!" I decided I’d better get me to a library and research something to blog about. So I trotted off to my county library and found. . . Ugh! Nothing! First search: Victorian, Women, Scandalous. Zero items found. Hmm. Okay. How about Victorian, Women, Outrageous? Zip. Victorian, Women? Nothing! NOTHING? Soooo . . time for the town library.

The first time I stopped by my new town library here in Utah, I was in for a rude awakening. I picked out a few books. The kids picked out a few more. I filled out the application and handed it over with a big smile. The librarian typed in my address and frowned. "You’re outside the city limits." Yep. "This isn’t your library. You’re in the county system." Huh? "You can get a card here, but it’ll cost you forty dollars a year." WHAT! We got directions to the county building, dropped everything, and ran. Still, I crawled back a few months later, forty dollars in hand. Winters are long in the Utah mountains, and the county library only has so many kids’ DVDs.

Still, my forty dollars did me no good in the research department. Victorian, Women? Nothing. I needed a much bigger system. With trembling fingers, I pulled up the website of the big, big, BIG library down in Salt Lake City. I didn’t bother with a book search. I went straight to the "How to Become a Member!" I clicked on "Not a Resident", then almost choked on my non-fat latte. EIGHTY DOLLARS! Argh. I couldn’t do it. Between the eighty dollars and the fortune I’d spend in gas money on a sixty minute round trip. . . This is the point at which I realized I’d once been library-spoiled and I didn’t even know it.

Flashback: Englewood, Colorado, 1996. Unbeknownst to me, I’m living in library paradise. If you join, say, the Arapahoe County library system as a resident, you’re automatically qualified to join any other library system in the state. Feel like spending the day at the big, beautiful downtown Denver library? Feel free! Show them your local library card and get a Denver library card. Check out whatever you want. Everyone’s family here!

My apologies to Colorado. I had no idea how lovely you were. Eighty dollars to join the SLC system. I didn’t want to do it, but I took a look at the catalog. Maybe it would be worth it? Victorian, Women. One hit. So not worth eighty dollars. And then. . . Then I stumbled into nirvana!!!

The University of Utah! So many books about Victorian women and Victorian sexuality and Victorian vice!!! Oh, I wanted to go down there and roll around in them. But I’m not a student there and never have been. What does this mean? I couldn’t find anything on the website! I called, was put on hold, waiting with baited breath. Finally the answer I’d been looking for! Fifty dollars, no need to pretend to enroll in the school, and I could check out an unlimited number of beautiful books!!! I'm proud to say I am now doing more research than I ever have before, and loving most of it.

It should never have taken me so long to find nirvana. Of course, I should have STARTED with the university library. Duh. Live and learn. So what’s the library system like in your town? Better than mine, I hope. Or are you forced to go to the university library right next to the university stadium on game days too? Where’s your favorite place to get lost in the stacks? And what's your record for longest time spent rolling in--I mean 'looking through'-- the books?


Blogger Unknown said...

Oh, Vicki! Did I scar you for life? LOL!

The library system here in the Bay Area is a gem (as Pam can attest, she's a much more frequent user than I am). I'm much more likely to BUY the book (assuming it's not hundreds of dollars) than to go to the library.

But I have been working my way through the Beau Monde’s “Regency Realm” (reviews of over 900 research books!) via the UC Library system. That’s how I got my hands on such books as The Regency Companion and The Rise of the Egalitarian Family (which are both prohibitively expensive, even for a booknut like me). I need to get my butt down to SFSU and check out their archive of The Gentleman’s Magazine! I just have to make the time . . .

11:24 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


How does one use either the UC or State library without being a student? (Contra Costa Libraries are disappointing, as I was used to SF.)Can a non-student check stuff out or do you have to photocopy on site?

My husband works at SF State and my sister's getting her PhD at Cal, so you'd think I'd know this, but I don't. I'm an alum of CCA, and know I have to pay to use their library.

We could take a field trip to SFSU.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Non-students can join the SF State U library for something like $45 a year, and the collection is surprisingly good -- turns out that there's a prof, Bill Christmas, in the English department, who's very knowledgable about Georgian lit; right now he's teaching a class centering around "amatory" novels, most often by women, of the 18th century in England, I know this because my husband Michael's auditing the class -- and reading me the good parts LOL. (A bit of a digression, but I thought you'd be interested -- Eliza Heywood was one hot writer.)

The UC Berkeley Library is more expensive -- the cheapest way to join for a year is to join the Alumni association (no you don't have to be a real alum), but I've forgotten how much that costs. When Michael gets home tonight I'll get all the specifics about both libraries.

And we're also fortunate that Our Son the Victorianist got us some kind of family borrowing privileges at the Columbia University library -- and recently showed me where they keep the gazillions of bound periodicals... a whole new toy. (A reality TV show about me and my family would have to be called The Lives of the English Majors.)

5:21 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

My local library is excellent for my San Francisco-set historicals, but for the Edwardian era, besides a few bios on Edward VII and some general era novels(while these books are very good--I now own my own copies), I've had to buy my own copies of semi-obscure books, if not download them from Google Books. The moment I enter my library I head directly for the history stacks. I've combed through them many, many times before, but I always stumble across something new(social life in 18th C Spain? Information on New England Whalers? France of Napoleon I?). As for time spent...I can't even tell because I could spend the entire day in any section of the library--I just pull out a book and plop down to read it in the aisle.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Gotta say I don't use my local library that much. The history collection is not so wonderful...if anything I go with my kids to their section and check out the "Eyewitness to History" books..

I admit I am a book buyer...Amazon, special collectors bookstores, generic used book stores, rummage sales I go wild. I have to own the book so I can keep it handy and ready for quick reference.

And yes, my little office is overflowing. But I won't give those rare and out of print reference books up!

9:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Eliza Heywood is one great *name.* And "amatory" is a fantastic word.
Since you've connected the two, I shall check her out.

I need to go to my pitiful local public library since my daughter's horse books are about a week overdue. I'll see if Heywood's on the shelves. I've asked my husband to check and see if spouses of SFSU staff have any library priveleges. Doubtful, but worth an ask!

When I read the last line of your post I saw, "The lives of Majors English." Too many romance novels, for sure.

San Francisco-based historicals? Awesome.What year?

10:12 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Re UCBerkeley library, Michael THINKS it now costs $75 a year to become an alumni assoc member, tho it may have gone up -- after that a library card is free. For SF State, you have to be come a Friend of Leonard Library (it'll say how if you poke around on the SFSU.edu web page)

11:37 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Pam beat me to it! It's $75 well spent (esp when you consider the concept of ILL from all the other UC libraries!).

You can check out the system holdings here:


7:52 AM  
Blogger Crystal Jordan said...

I work for the University of Utah Library! Welcome!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Hi Crystal! Everytime I go, I think maybe I'll run into you there, but it's just too big! (Hey, when's the renovation supposed to be complete?)

12:35 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

As a staff member at UW, I can access the campus library system, but since I work at an off-campus site it's so much hassle I usually don't bother--I stick with the Seattle Public Library and make extensive use of interlibrary loan. It's free, and so far they've been able to track down everything I ask for, even though once the book journeyed all the way from Yorkshire. (I imagined it with a sexy accent, like Sean Bean.)

I've heard some people have to pay to use ILL--is that the case for any of y'all? My husband and I were discussing whether we might want to move in the next few years, since both of our families are on the other side of the country. I started with, "I can live anywhere with free interlibrary loan," but quickly started adding caveats about not liking excessively flat places, superheated summers, anywhere without baseball, and so on.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

when's the renovation supposed to be complete?)

Ok, I know I'm tired, because I totally read this "when is the revolution supposed to be complete" LOL!

3:34 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Susan beat me to the joys of the fabulous Seattle public library system. I've once had a book delivered from a small monastic order in central Oregon. Yorkshire, Susan? Very cool!

2:06 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Oh, did I forget to mention the revolution? ;-)

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I no longer go to the library. I actually go to the Book Bug. After I finish reading my books I can take them and trade them for other books. There are so many thet I tend to stay too long. My kids hate it when I go and they are with me. LOL

12:06 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Jane--Gilded Age(comparable to Europe's Belle Epoque, of course. *G*)

9:09 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Camilla, have you read Andrew Sean Greer's The Confessions of Max Tivoli, an achingly romantic, magic realist novel about a man who's born a 70-year-old in 1871 San Francisco and ages backwards, toward the 1930s? Greer's such a good writer that he pulls it off -- the difficulties of "being in" one's age and place, the hearbreak of love at the wrong time, place, and age, the ways time changes everything for everybody.

And I found his San Francisco Bay Area history very rich and wonderful.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

No I haven't Pam--I'm going to have to check that one out. Thanks for the rec! And yes, SF is a gold mine for plots--I don't know why it isn't utilized the way it should be. *g*

4:40 PM  
Blogger zebrafeet said...

The Boston area library system is great. I'm a resident of a neighboring town - all I have to do is show my Newton library card and viola I have a Boston Public Library card.

8:47 AM  

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