Inside the Library’s Labyrinth #6 – Finding the needle in the Haystack

This week’s highlighted resource is the second in a group of four aimed primarily at humanities researchers.  It is the Readex AllSearch gateway to primary resources and can be accessed here .

Finding a needle in a haystack is a familiar saying defined by the Cambridge dictionary as ‘something that is impossible or extremely difficult to find, especially because the area you have to search is too large.’ 

It is a saying that must chime with all of us who are trying to find resources that might be used to fuel our writing.  If the haystack we are talking about is the internet then the size of that haystack is mind boggling.  Without wanting to boggle you, go here for details of the content created on the internet daily.  More about needles and haystacks later . . .

Given the enormity of our task as researcher’s it is no wonder we seek out ways of simplifying it.  Hence our need  for search engines and databases.

The Readex AllSearch site has links to a number of databases centred on American History.  As it states, it provides the opportunity to source ‘books, pamphlets, newspapers, government documents and more’.  Items date back to the 17th Century and it features many state papers and government materials, including published reports; presidential letters and messages; and congressional, state and territorial resolutions.  Collectively, these resources are known as the Archive of Americana but it is useful to know that the material is not exclusive to the United States.  Included in the collection is a collection of more than 140 Caribbean newspapers from 22 islands between 1718 and 1896.

Like other sites of this type it contains a search engine with the option of an advanced search.  A simple search for the item(s) you are interested in can be further narrowed on the results page by selecting the order in which results are shown (from best fit to newest to oldest), document type, database used for the search (there are 8 in total) and the date of publication.

This process, where you can browse through the results of your search or more narrowly define what you are looking for relies on something that we call metadata.  For an explanation of what metadata is and how important it is for the researcher you can go to our Modern Record Centre (MRC) at Warwick and read the advice they give to those intending to deposit a collection with them.  Find that advice here .

Readex have their own Blog that provides a lot of interesting examples and tips for those using its sites.  For their blog about their use of metadata you could try here .

From the black ribbon at the top of the AllSearch Homepage you can check out other databases managed by NewsBank inc who own Readex AllSearch.  A partial listing will show you the breadth of the information available to you through the Readex family of databases:

Space Exploration – Space X

Mental Health – Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

History – Stonewall Uprising

Education Around the World

Military appreciation Month

Readex AllSearch is an invaluable aid to those looking to access original documents supporting their study of American and Caribbean history.  So what about those needles . . .

In 2014 Italian performance artist Sven Sachsaiber turned the search for a needle in a haystack into a piece of performance art at a contemporary art gallery in Paris.  The gallery’s director, explaining the purpose of the piece, said ‘It is a symbol of the search we are all doing for something, in the labyrinth in which we are.’ 

Sachssaiber had undertaken a number of unusual tasks before this including eating a highly toxic wild mushroom, spending 24 hours in a room with a cow and climbing over gravestones pretending to be a squirrel. 

There is a Youtube video of him talking about the task where he says ‘It’s hard I think because is itchy this hay and I am going to have it everywhere after a few hours but its fun at the same time.’  I think most of us would beg to differ.

It is not recorded whether he found the needle.  I sincerely hope your searches using Readex AllSearch or any other resource are far less dangerous and, ultimately, fruitful.

What about you? Did you try using Readex AllSearch? Tell us how it works for you! Tweet us at @warwicklibrary, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

by Stephen Hedges

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