Who constructs the historical record, and who mediates your access to it? Many people and institutions play a role, beginning with the people who possess the knowledge and technologies needed to produce and reproduce texts. Institutions like libraries and archives also play a role, and the present guide primarily addresses historical research in libraries. To use libraries effectively (which is to say, intentionally and systematically), you need to understand what a library is, and how it is organized, because the way in which a library organizes the historical record tends to privilege certain types of inquiry, and even to elicit certain conclusions about the past. And no, not even Google or mass digitization has been able to alter the historical record's peculiar, discursive contours, nor has it been able to fill gaps in the historical record or retrieve documents never saved. In short: your attempt to uncover overdetermination in history is itself overdetermined.
A library is one type of memory institution. A memory institution is any organization body that has institutionalized the practices:
Aside from libraries, other examples of memory institutions include archives, museums, cemeteries, historical landmarks, and branches of government that create and maintain records (for example, the office of the Champaign County Recorder). Historians might use any of these memory institutions in their research.
Libraries collect and preserve the graphic records of human experience.1 Not every experience is documented, and not every documented experience is collected and preserved. At the University of Illinois Library you have access to over 14 million printed books, 9 million microforms, 120,000 periodicals, 148,000 sound recordings, 1 million audiovisual resources, 280,000 e-books, 29,000 cubic feet of archival records, 3 terabytes of electronic records, and 650,000 maps—that’s over 24 million records available for your research.
Librarians often refer to these records as documents.
Research libraries differ from other types of libraries in that they attempt to collect documents as comprehensively as possible, within certain parameters. Of course, given the enormous number of documents produced (both published and unpublished), even the largest research libraries, like University of Illinois, can collect only a tiny fraction of those documents...
A document is “materially fixed knowledge […] capable of being used for consultation, study, and proof”.2
Some documents are published (e.g. a magazine article), while other documents are unpublished (e.g. a letter). Unpublished documents are more often found in other types of repositories, like archives. Archives are sometimes attached organizationally to libraries. For example, the University Archives, and the Student Life and Culture Archive are both units within the University of Illinois Library. The Champaign County Historical Archives is a unit within the Urbana Free Library.
Libraries typically collected published documents. The fact of publication, therefore, is an essential concept for researchers who wish to be skillful users of libraries.
When new technologies for producing documents become available, the producers of documents tend to imitate the formal properties that characterized documents produced by earlier technologies.
For example, early printed books resembled handwritten manuscripts, most notably in the use of typefaces that resembled handwriting. Early printers also used hand-colored woodcuts that were supposed to look like illuminations, and elaborately ornamented drop initials.3
Just as manuscript books preceded printed books, and printed books originally imitated manuscript books, so too did printed books precede periodicals, and in many respects periodicals began by imitating books.
Periodicals were originally treated as a kind of book published in parts, over a period of time. When all issues of the volume had been published, the publishers included a book-like title page, preface, and even an index, with the idea that the whole thing would be assembled together, bound, and presented as a kind of book.
Popular periodicals eventually dropped this homage to the book, but academic journals have clung much longer to these formal conventions.
In citations for academic journals, the volume and issue numbering remain essential features (volume and issue number highlighted in yellow):
Kunzel, Regina. "Queer History, Mad History, and the Politics of Health." American Quarterly 69, no. 2 (June 2017): 315-319.
While for popular periodicals, the numbering is omitted:
Conant, Eve. "Do Ask, Do Tell." Newsweek, October 4, 2010.
We are going through a similar period now, where, despite the new possibilities afforded by online publication, traditional document genres like books and journal articles continue to resemble their print and paper antecedents.
Publication is the mechanical reproduction of a document into multiple copies, and the offering of those copies to the public (usually for sale).4
The two main types of publications collected by libraries are:
1. Jesse H. Shera, The Foundations of Education for Librarianship (New York: Becker and Hayes, 1972), 193.
2. Suzanne Briet, What is Documentation? trans. and ed. Ronald E. Day and Laurent Martinet (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2006).
3. Margaret M. Smith, "The Design Relationship between the Manuscript and the Incunable," in A Millennium of the Book: Production, Design, and Illustration in Manuscript and Print, 900-1900, ed. Robin Myers and Michael Harris (New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1994), 23-43.
4. Mary C. Turner, The Bookman's Glossary, 4th ed. rev. and enl. (New York, N.Y. : R.R. Bowker, 1961); John Carter and Nicolas Barker, ABC for Book Collectors, 9th ed. (London: British Library, 2004).