Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. I bet, from the title, that you think I’m going to talk about Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Or maybe Marvel’s The Avengers. Or even Iron Man or Agent Carter. Okay. I admit I have a fondness for movies and TV shows based on comic books—oops! make that “graphic novels”—but in this case, the marvelous Marvel has to do with libraries, specifically the Maine State Library. Unless one of them has switched to writing articles in scholarly journals, it’s unlikely that either Stan Lee or Joss Whedon is involved.
MARVEL! is Maine’s Virtual Library. It is a database accessible either from library computers in the state of Maine or from the user’s home. Repeat: from home.
We all do research online, whether it’s just to find out more about some subject that catches our fancy or because we need detailed information in order to write a scene in one of our books. When I talk to writers about doing research, I am always careful to remind them that depending on online sources is risky. After all, anyone can put up a webpage or contribute an article to Wikipedia. No credentials required. But going online can also yield new sources of information to explore. There are probably whole books written on any given subject, but there may also be articles in periodicals, whether they be popular magazines or academic journals. Once you have the title and author of a book, it’s relatively easy to either buy a copy or borrow one through Inter-Library-Loans. But if it appears that the best or most recent information may be found in a shorter piece written by an expert, that’s where MARVEL! comes in.
At the beginning of April, I was gearing up to start work on the next Mistress Jaffrey Mystery, set in sixteenth-century England. The plot is going to involve a maidservant other characters think is possessed by a demon. I’ve been reading books on demonology and exorcism and taking notes, but before sitting down in front of that blank screen, I wanted to see what else might have been written on the subject. Articles often come out in advance of the publication of a book, sometimes years earlier, so I’ve learned that it’s always a good idea to mine this resource for the most recent research.
MARVEL! is easy to use. Just go to the Maine State Library page, where you’ll find it listed under “Popular Services.” A click of the mouse brings up a keyword search form. I typed in two words: Elizabethan exorcism.
Books also come up in these searches, but the first two items were articles, one in Northern History and the other in History Today. Both had links to see the PDF Full Text version. These can then be read online, downloaded, or printed. Personally, I like the print option, so I can highlight and scribble notes on the pages. Since I’m technologically challenged, it took me a couple of tries to figure out how to print the entire article instead of just the summary, but I now have copies of both articles.
If you already know that an article exists and you’re searching for a copy of it, the same procedure works just fine. Last year, for an entry in my “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women,” I was trying to find an article I’d seen cited in a bibliography. “Thomas Cromwell’s Abbess, Margaret Vernon” by Mary C. Erler was published in the February 2014 issue of History Today, a periodical which makes some of its articles available on its website. When this one wasn’t among them, I turned to MARVEL! I didn’t even have to type in the entire title. The words abbess and Margaret Vernon were enough to take me straight to the article.
Those examples involve historical research, but MARVEL! works just as well for contemporary subjects. There’s a ball python that makes an appearance in my upcoming Liss MacCrimmon mystery, The Scottie Barked at Midnight. I typed in pythons as pets and MARVEL! produced an assortment of articles and books on the subject. The fourth on the list contained exactly the information I needed in an article in a medical journal.
As a writer, I love books and I love libraries, but I also love the convenience of being able to find information without having to leave my office. I’ve ordered Inter-Library loans from home for years, through my courtesy card from the University of Maine at Farmington. Thanks to the Maine State Library, MARVEL! makes it even easier for me to do the research necessary to write my books. And if I can’t find what I’m looking for? All it takes to get help is an email to the ILL librarian at UMF or to one of the librarians at MSL.
Does MARVEL! or its equivalent exist in other states? I don’t know, but I’d love it if our readers would chime in and answer that question.