Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Much More Civilized Way to Do It

Today I'm doing work at a research library. And it's an odyssey.
Let me explain: Grit City University is a real, live four-year university. We also awards masters' degrees, but our main mission is undergrad-focused. So our library has always been geared towards the undergraduate audience. Then you combine that with decades of funding cutbacks, and what we find is that most of our books are out of date or just plain inappropriate for serious research above the level of an undergraduate research paper (and often not even that). Sure, we have a fantastic interlibrary loan service, and decent research databases (I've fought like hell to keep the one on medieval stuff, which almost got the axe a few years back), but nothing that I could do real research at -- you know, the kind where you sit down with a multi-volume published source collection from the early 1900s or a run of journals or a hard-to-get reference work and just work in the library all day.

Fortunately, GCU is only two and a half hours away from Major Research University (MRU), so sometimes I just come up here and work for a day.

Except: did I mention the "two and a half hours" thing? Yeah, that's each way. And, for me: on public transit. So, research trip math: 2.5 hours times two plus timing to make sure that I'm not in the rush-hour commute but still home before 10 pm and not up before 6 and... I generally get 4 hours of research time for five hours of commute.

You can see why I don't do this very often. Then, last time I did, I hit on a solution: I would stay the night. MRU is actually in a really nice area, with restaurants and coffee shops and stores and such. And a couple years back I got a tip on a seen-better-days pension-style 1930s budget hotel for a really ridiculous price per night. The first time I stayed there, it was warm enough out that everyone had their windows open, and I could hear, from three rooms down, a very talented person practicing the violin, all drifting in my window with the breeze. I thought: "This is the kind of place that one might check into for a month to finish one's novel."

The Room. With room-key.
So now, I take the transit up. I stop on the way and have breakfast. I settle in. I get lunch near MRU. I work for 5 hours. Nice dinner. Sleep. Morning coffee and pastry around the corner, because the MRU library doesn't open until 9 on Saturdays. And then it's 6-7 hours of work (with a coffee break) before I head back home. And it all feels like a little research vacation in the city. Actually, it reminds me of my life when I'm on research trips in Blargistan. Just like then, I'm not living in the lap of luxury, by most standards. But by mine... yeah. I could like this.


Sapience said...

That sounds really fabulous!

I'm at a technically oriented school at the moment, so our databases and research resources are abysmal for other reasons. But when I was deciding where to live, I ended up choosing to live farther from where I worked so that I could live closer to a university with a real research library that had humanities stuff. During the summer, I try and do at least two days a week at the library close to me. And it really does feel more like how my overseas research trips are than what my dissertation research was.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Research vacation! Yay!

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Haha! When I started reading this I thought, "why not just spend the night?" This sounds like a great time. And I love the old school hotel. Awesome!

I really miss having a decent library. The nearest to me is on a campus that is incredibly hard to navigate because all the buildings, including garages, look so similar that if you don't know where you're going, you get very lost. I lost my car there once and walk two solid hours trying to find it. I haven't been back since. Sigh.

Janice said...

What a great system you've set up, right down to the particularly charming hotel. Kudos!

Susan said...

It is impossible for people at universities with a good library to know the joy that is felt when you are in one. For me, it's that when I am chasing a reference, I can find it there.