Last week my research into events in the early 1920s hit a problem. Of course, saying “my research” makes it all sound rather grand, and I must admit from the outset that this is just my hobby. I wouldn’t want you to think I was doing work on behalf of a government department or anything. But even so, it is nonetheless research.
The issue I was focusing on in the 1920s is just one detail in the life of a nation recovering from the First World War. Quite a few people have taken this road before me, and they have all turned up one source book, which covers my area of interest.
So, every article, every history book, every person who pops up on a Radio 4 programme on the topic, always quotes this one source.
Now obviously I knew in essence what this book says, but I’d never read it. The book was an autobiography which was published in 1947 which went out of print in the 1950s. But it has been quoted so much that I felt like I knew it without reading it.
I didn’t think anything about this in particular until I turned up some factual information from reference works that made me think for the first time that there was something in the autobiography which might not be accurate. And, if that were the case, then all the comments made by everyone else would also be inaccurate.
For the first time in the project I felt a little buzz of excitement. Maybe I could turn up something that everyone else who had just copied this one source over and over again had missed.
The problem was that I had to locate a copy of the book. Of course there would be a copy in the British Library and I could make a trip to the reading room and spend a day waiting for the book to be retrieved, and then sit there making notes. But I didn’t really relish the task. It is years since I have done that sort of research, and I know just how slow (and inaccurate) I am at copying out text.
No, I wanted to see the book.
In the end I found a fellow enthusiast who had a copy of the book, and he scanned it in, and I read it on-line.
OK, I found all that I wanted to know – but at what a cost to my head! After a day reading the scanned book on my computer, my head was thumping to such a level that the pain killers were unable to clear my thoughts, and my eyes were blurring over.
I had indeed turned up some exciting new research and proved conclusively that this autobiography that has been treated as a reliable source on issues in the early 1920s is actually factually incorrect throughout. As a result I had proven that all (and I mean all) the earlier histories on this topic were wrong. 1-0 to me.
But oh, how I would love to have had a copy of that book. Even if I never want to read it again, I would love it on my shelf or even tucked away in storage. Just knowing I had it would be something. Just knowing that I could, if I wished, go back to it and look again, without having to read on screen, would be wonderful.
For me, paper and books are everything on-line is not. That is why it is so vital that we should store books and look after them. They represent a part of our past in a way that a web page will never be able to do.
If you have books or anything else that you want to preserve for the future, do call us on 0800 783 9516. We have the facilities, and I know we can help.
PS: And just in case you are interested, the book was “Behind the scenes in big football” by Leslie Knighton. He was a manager of Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Birmingham City – although never a very good one. Which is undoubtedly why his book moves the facts around a bit.