What Did You Do For Information pre-Internet?

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What Did You Do For Information pre-Internet?

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Fev 9, 2008, 8:12am

I was talking to my kids (now 15 and 12) the other day about how easy it is for them (and us) to get all the info they need at a moment's notice. What to know what the flag of Chile looks like? 2 seconds on Google image. What movie did Humphrey Bogart last star in? 2 seconds on IMDB.

Anything you want to know in a few seconds. Which leads me to wonder; what did we do pre-internet?

Aside from going to the library, at home I'd use the "Lincoln Library"...a sort of condensed encyclopedia. As well as the New York library Desk reference and Science refernce. What about you?

Fev 9, 2008, 11:41am

The Jackson County and Kansas City public libraries and, after I was 14, the Encyclopedia Britannica--which my parents bought for my brother and me and which I found unsatisfactory until I got into college. The EB was a frustrating, wonderful, encyclopedia, but thank heavens for Wikipedia, which is all powerful in where the EB was fatally weak: ease of use and currency of content

Editado: Fev 9, 2008, 2:54pm

Having grown up in Noo Yawk, I would do two things.

One would be to go to THE Library, pass between the lions and research a thing if it required that much effort.

The easier would be to go to the local branch, look something up and then go to the local bookstores to order what I needed to gain the knowledge sought.

But then again, I love to research information having been interested in history all my life.

My secret identity, if I had one, would be a research librarian.

Fev 9, 2008, 3:04pm

I've always had some well-thumbed reference books in the house and in recent years as a freelance indexer found I was often spending time looking up names, places and so on in printed books. What made a difference was
a the ability to have resources such as Britannica on hard disc so I didn't have to mess around with CDs every time I wanted to access it;
b broadband rather than pay-by-the-second dial-up
c the huge wealth of information now available

I recently indexed a book on the Great War and (to mention just one site) Wikipedia has a wealth of information on regiments and individuals. Many of the latter do not appear in Britannica or standard biographical dictionaries. I have to say that when indexing I turn first to the internet because it is quicker and "fuller". But then I am already sitting at a computer. If I just come across something when I'm reading or doing a crossword I still head for the shelves.

Fev 11, 2008, 10:22am

Fortunately, I was walking distance from my town's public library so that was my main source of info. My dad was a school teacher and a history buff so he had a tremendous library too. He still has every single National Geographic since 1948 (or 1949 - somewhere around there). Every decade or so, he'd invest in a new encyclopedia set as well. Plus, my parents have a wealth of information stored in their brains. They watch Jeopardy every day and I'm always amazed at how many answers they know.

Fev 11, 2008, 10:36am

Back in the day Before Computers (B.C.)for School Reports for English and History I would have to use our set of World Book Encyclopedias or go to the School Library with the rest of the Class. We also
had a complete 16 Volume Set of books on History
with great color photographs and stories telling you what happened in the time of the Greeks, Romans,
Civil War, WWII, etc. If I wanted to find the name of a Movie or the name of the Actress or Actor of the
Movie I would buy a yearly Video Edition of Leonard
Maltin's book of Videos, also you learned a lot
watching PBS shows like NOVA or Jacques Cousteau
Specials or other National Geographic Specials.
I always looked forward to the leatest Cousteau


Fev 11, 2008, 8:47pm

Thanks for reminding me of another WONDERFUL source of information I had growing up: Life and Look magazine would do special issues featuring all sorts of historical and/or scientific material. These were concise, not overly complicated, always marvelously illustrated, and were frequently the germination of a wonderful series of books put out by Time-Life covering these subjects in greater detail. The American Heritage magazine had great articles and books as well, but my family didn't subscribe to those (thank heavens for public libraries!)

Fev 12, 2008, 6:18am

>6 beatles1964: I had forgotten that we always had a Leonard Maltin or some such book around since the 80s and until recently, refreshed every few years. Now we just use rottentomatoes.com

Fev 13, 2008, 6:09am

Although I use the Internet for much of the "ready reference" scientific information I need when writing, I still buy "New Scientist" or "Scientific American" from time for time, for in-depth articles or themed issues. That's one information source I use for which I still prefer print.

Fev 13, 2008, 12:34pm

Man, I hate what the publisher did to Scientific American. It used to be a really useful source, now it's almost a science tabloid with dumbed-down content. New Scientist is still pretty good, though.

One of the really good things that's happened on the internet is the online preprint servers that have popped up. We can now get lots of great papers well before they'll be published in the journals. Back in grad school, we'd get the same thing, but as paper preprints mailed from one school to another, and stuff I wanted to get read would get lost in someone else's office, etc. At least in the physics realm, the Web's done wonders for access to information...

Fev 14, 2008, 7:18am

Buy New Scientist from time to time but what I don't like about it is that a lot of space is taken up with meaningless graphics which add nothing to understanding of the text. Just make the pages look pretty.

Mar 7, 2008, 6:12pm

Both my parents were school teachers - dad in history, mom in the library. The first place I'd go would be the library. I would read as many magazines on the topic as possible; for example, to learn about new music, you'd read Rolling Stone, Creem, and any underground 'zine' you could get your hands on -- and we'd exchange mix tapes. I would also go to local bookstores. I would also ask my parents if they knew anyone who knew anything about XYZ topic. And we had a copy of Encylopedia Britannica, too - from the 60s!

Maio 5, 2008, 10:15pm

I used to go to libraries. I remember at the UCONN Medical Library, spending a lot of time photocopying using a vend card. I thought that some day I might serve as a researcher!

Maio 14, 2008, 10:27am

I used our Grolier encyclopedias & the libraries wherever we lived.

Maio 14, 2008, 11:08am

I'm actually a little older than my 40s, so I hope I can still post here! I didn't live near a library, so I guess it was the school library or I'd ask my parents. Mostly I think I just read anything I could get my hands on and absorbed it, but I didn't do much researching until I was older--but I well remember looking articles up in the Guide to Periodicals and then hoping the library had the magazine in which I found articles of interest.

And who didn't love combing through card catalogs for treasures . . .?

Ago 6, 2008, 5:17pm

I didn't know anything back then. I was completely stupid. ;-)

Funny, I've been an LTer for a while and never knew there was a group of 40-somethings. Today I noticed that a frequent poster at the Tea! group (my favorite) is a member of the 30-something group, so I looked to see if there is a group of 40s. And here you are!

When I saw this topic, I knew I had to stick around and read.

Seriously, in the Dark Ages I was a frequent visitor to my local public library (or college library, when I was a student). I still am, but now I'm often toting my laptop and using their wi-fi.

I remember card catalogs. While electronic directories are a quicker and (usually) more efficient way to find a particular book, browsing the cards often resulted in delightfully serendipitous finds.

My parents had an encyclopedia at home and we always had a lot of books, so there were some reference materials available at home.

Mostly, I think, it was just normal that if you needed some obscure bit of information it might take a couple of days to locate it. And we survived.

Ago 6, 2008, 9:29pm

The next stop for me after the card catalog was the Directory of Periodicals (or something like that). If I remember correctly, they were published once or twice a year. You would look up a subject and it would list all the articles in various magazines for years back. Talk about serendipity.

Ago 9, 2008, 9:06am

Readers Guide to Periodical Literature!

They came out monthly, I think, but then there were larger compendiums covering a longer period.... quarterly or half-yearly, I don't remember. My high school was quite insistent that we use that to look up articles rather than just going to the encyclopedia. I got pretty good at using it and, as the local public high school didn't teach it, sometimes found myself giving impromptu lessons at the library.

Looks like they've gone online now: http://www.hwwilson.com/Databases/Readersg.htm#Literature

Now I use Google News for everyday stuff (and I subscribe to a daily alert on an organization I volunteer with). For more in-depth searches, I'd use the databases at the public library--still the best resource, only it's no longer just paper. And there are some websites that offer specialized directories and, where available, links to articles. Foundation Center (www.FoundationCenter.org) comes to mind.

Set 22, 2008, 11:53pm

Encyclopedia, library, magazines (Readers Digest; Farmers Almanac; NatGeo; Look; Time) and all my parents books. I still have a wealth of reference books in which I prefer to thumb through then going on-line when I need some various bits of info. Great topic

Set 24, 2008, 2:08pm

I used the school library--I lived in a small town and we didn't have a public library.

Even now, if I really want to know something other than entertainment-related info, I feel better using written reference materials. The internet is dodgy, at best, with it's info. I use Wikipedia, or an online version of EB, or Discovery.com, but don't rely on lesser known 'hit' pages for correct info. All of the 'writing-related' advice I've heard from published writers is don't rely on the internet.

Set 30, 2008, 3:20pm

I am taking a continuing ed course at a local university. Doing my mid-term paper with Internet research and Google Docs is an experience.

I want to go back and do it all over again, with online tools and no reference librarians who run and hide when I approach with a request for interlibrary loan.

Out 1, 2008, 3:41am

"I want to go back and do it all over again, with online tools and no reference librarians who run and hide when I approach with a request for interlibrary loan."

Heheh, you said it! I had to extend the deadline for my diploma thesis for another 2 months back in *mumble, mumble*, because I needed stuff from the FAO in Rome that simply took too long.
Today I can actually order interlibrary loans myself via a national web-interface!

Back when I was a child, when the book wasn't available locally, that was it. Today, I check the web catalogue (province-wide), see whether it is available in my town, and if not, order it online from another library in the province, at 1.50€. Or if it still isn't available, change to the national catalogue and do a nationwide search and interlibrary loan/copy for 2€. A steal, really. I am now doing more interlibrary loans for private purposes than I did at Uni (mostly ordering English language books).

Out 13, 2008, 8:38am

Man, I wish I could do ILL myself via a national web-interface. Of course, that would only add to the stack of library books I have at home already, so maybe it is just as well that I do not.

Editado: Out 13, 2008, 9:33am

#23, I usually have the people at the local library fill out the paperwork for the ILL, though. Those national ILL only check University and State libraries, so you cannot get books from City/County libraries (which are public libraries, rather than scientific libraries). But I mostly order English language novels "off the beaten path", so often these are only available at the English Dept.s of Unis. If I wanted to order the newest Dan Brown, they would send me home ;-).

Out 13, 2008, 9:48pm

Hello--new here.

We used our World Book set. I was heartbroken when, in jr. high, my parents decided we needed to "upgrade" to Britannica. I found World Book more friendly. They also subscribed to National Geographic, which provide info for many a paper.

The public library was a regular haunt, particularly in high school when a branch was 1/2 mile bike ride away. Seems to be a theme for me, I now live 1-1/2 blocks from a public library branch.

My son Googles or uses Encarta. Some of his teachers will require say, 5 sources and 3 must be non-Internet. Yay!

Out 23, 2008, 10:34am

A small library and the good Britannica. When I was doing a school essay one book and a paragraph in Britannica was just not enough. Now that 20 yrs later am back to studying am now bombarded with too much information!!

Nov 4, 2008, 2:28pm

Libraries at both home and school. In grade school the teacher would actually have to find the time to take us to the library to "use the encyclopedias" for our reports.

I wouldn't trade the access to information I have now, but I do miss the card catalogs. All the little drawers with the cards all organized.... I want one for my house... *sigh*

Nov 5, 2008, 3:30am

"Every savage can dance, eh, use Google." ;-)

Yes, hunting for info in a library was definitely different from hacking a search word into the Google interface. And going through cards from 1870 is definitely something special, as is getting a book that was published in 1850 or thereabouts.

Nov 28, 2008, 10:02am

"I want to go back and do it all over again, with online tools... " (21)

Hey, I actually DID! After using online research and Google Docs, I then exported it to OpenOffice.org to do the final formatting. (Can't believe how easy footnotes are!) And the first time it saw paper was the final draft.

It was a blast and I got an A. :-)

Jan 12, 2009, 5:14pm

Multnomah County Central Library got me through my college writing course as a teen....

My mother subscribed to Encyclopedia Britannica and I used to use those a lot.

I was really good at using a card catalog. I think that is one of the reasons why I immediately became a squealing fangirl when I found LibraryThing...

I also remember how hard it was to get the footnotes looking just right on a typewriter. Am so grateful for computers.

Jan 12, 2009, 5:25pm

>30 anna_in_pdx: Oh, god, the number of pages I had to retype just because I didn't leave enough room for the footnotes! What a colossal pain that was. I will say that I became really good at typing first draft as final draft for papers that weren't so footnote-intensive, though.

The advent of personal computers was a miracle that I welcomed from the word go.

Jan 12, 2009, 10:56pm

30 & 31: If only the younger ones knew how people like me are still so, so thankful for word-processing, including footnotes that migrate to the right page if you've inserted extra text!

As to the topic of the thread, well, my whole family has always had a "looking things up" culture. Not only did we quaintly have family dinners sitting down together, but at least once during every dinner some question or point of curiosity came up, and one of us would quickly jump up to consult various reference books, including the World Book encyclopedia set, National Geographic issues, Newsweek issues, medical reference manual, Durant history books, dictionaries, etc. I also spent much time in libraries throughout my youth. I should also mention that I did and I still do ask my Dad for facts, as he really has what I call encyclopedic knowledge of many different fields. I was totally prepped as a "natural" to fall in love with internet search engines and online references. At this point in my life, I could never go back; I think I would panic if I couldn't look up any type of obscure information in the world within a few seconds.

PDeebs: I grew up in the midwest, and the main exciting thing when our class took trips to the school library and the librarian taught us how to use the card catalog was that she was from Massachusetts, so she called it a cahhhd catalog. That will always stick in my head! I think it would be cool to have the cabinet with the little drawers, too, although I'm not sure for what yet.

Jan 12, 2009, 10:59pm

>32 grammargoddess:
"I think I would panic if I couldn't look up any type of obscure information in the world within a few seconds."


Maio 4, 2009, 8:25pm

Oh, What a life before computers....hours and hours spent over card catologs and microfilm...(microfish?) Yeah....in those days you had to earn the info you found.....Kids have it so easy......My family could not afford Britannica, World Book or any other set of big refference books. I guess that is why I buy books now. I never had too many of my own. Spent countless hour in the library.

Grammargoddess: I would love to have a card catalog cabinet too. That would be awsome....Karen5l: tea would fit in the narrow drawers....

Maio 5, 2009, 8:48pm

One of my students recently told me that math and science are harder now, you know, because of the internet. That Galileo had it so easy back in his day.

Maio 5, 2009, 11:43pm

>35 emaestra: I would love to read a short and well-constructed essay on why your student believes this is the case.

Maio 8, 2009, 8:09pm

Me too...ejj1955...emaestra Why does your student think math is harder now? Math is math, right?

Maio 8, 2009, 10:55pm

LorLe, that's exactly what I said. He thinks this because he is sixteen and his parents, teachers, etc. couldn't possibly know how hard it is to be a teenager and learn knew stuff. This goes along the lines of all the teens who think they invented sex. Um... it doesn't work that way.

Maio 9, 2009, 12:39am

>38 emaestra: Oh, yes; it's not just teens. The other day I had a conversation (about something sexual) with my neighbor, who is maybe 13 years younger than I am. I may not want to share all the details with her, but I wanted to ask what turnip truck she thinks I fell off.

Editado: Maio 9, 2009, 9:03am

I fully undertand why teens think things are harder. Once you have life expirences math and other things seem easier. Not that math has changed but their perspective chaged. ejj1955...I have a friend who is 41, she is like your friend. Math is still hard and sex well....her idea too. SO maybe it isn't age but expirence and perspective, which dosesn't always come with age.

The internet makes it easier to find answers where in the past we had to look harder for answers. Life is easier now, no doubt, for me anyway.

Maio 14, 2009, 12:27pm

When I was a kid, I would first look through the set of encylopedias we had at home. If what I was looking for wasn't there, then a trip to the library was needed.

Editado: Maio 23, 2009, 6:50pm

Wow. What *did* I do? Well, for school papers, at least through high school, the first stop was about 30 years worth of National Geographic in the basement (with a giant hardbound index) or Durant & Durant's The Story of Civilization. And after that, off to the library. There was a children's encyclopedia set as well, but that wasn't very useful for very long. And I can remember being awed by (and then buying) Asimov's The Intelligent Man's Guide To Science because "Wow. All about Science! In two volumes!"

Like several others I can't imagine going back to not being able to look up something quickly. But I think the biggest change is how easy it is to wander from one topic to another to another. The browser tools I use the most are the ones that let me branch off to other topics, or build up a list to follow up on while I'm reading. Browsing the stacks in the library would let me find a lot of stuff on more-or-less the same topic, and sometimes some real surprises, but leaping from DNA to stable geometric shapes to buckyballs to Buckmister Fuller to home design to Frank Lloyd Wright?

Hmm. As I describe that, I wonder if books like Salt aren't as much a consequence of the internet as anything else.