Before the internet, people who wanted or needed to research a subject, for personal use or for schoolwork, had to go to the library, because they usually didn’t have the tools to research things at home, with the possible exception of a set of encyclopedias. I think many of us have had a physical set of encyclopedias, but those books had their own set of problems…the greatest being that they quickly became outdated. Of course, the internet has its own set of problems too…the greatest being misinformation and outright lies.
All that aside, in the not-so-distant past, since it was still in my lifetime, research was done in the library, which is why so many schools had one of their own, at least in junior high and high school. The students, armed with a research subject went to the library and began their search. Basically, the library was the “internet” of the past. Your search would often begin with the card catalog. This was a large cabinet with very small drawers filled with cards with holes in the bottom that were attached to a rod in the bottom of the drawer. The cards were arranged alphabetically so they could be easily researched, but if the subject had a lot of information out there, that did not mean that the search would be a quick one.
Once the desired information was located, the researcher would use a slip of paper (usually provided by the library) to write down the information the card gave as to the location of the book that housed the detailed information that had been summarized on the card. The card always contained a number such as 746.43, which was really a code for the location of the book needed by the researcher. In this case, the 7 stands for the classification…Art. The first 4 stands for the division…drawings/decorative arts. The 6 stands for the section…textile arts. The numbers following the decimal stand for classification within the section…type of textile. Armed with this information, the researcher was able to go to the section of the library that holds that classification of book and locate their book, or just as often they could go to the librarian and receive help to find their book. Of course, the biggest problem with this type of research is that the book might very likely be checked out already, especially if it was a popular subject. If the book wasn’t available, the researcher would have to wait until it came back or go start the whole process again to find another book that contained the desired information. As I’m sure you can imagine, this type of research was quite frustration, and extremely slow…especially if you had any inkling of the speed of locating information these days. Thankfully back then, no one did, so research papers were assigned weeks early, to be turned in at the end of the quarter or semester.
Once you had your hands on the desired book or a comparable alternative, you were required to read all or most of the book to find the information you needed for your research project. You couldn’t simply ask the book a question and expect an answer like you can today with the computer and the internet. While today’s type of research is much easier, I’m sure there are many people who would say that the challenge of the “dig for information” is completely and sadly lost. I suppose they are right, but since I’m a techy, I would find that kind of research frustrating, since I do know about the computer and the internet. Thankfully, when I had to research information in my youth, I had no idea that the internet would exist in just a few short years, so the frustration was averted.