Rapturous Research

In a recent op-ed piece by Sean Pidgeon, he defines research rapture:

“A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact.”

Pidgeon’s column triggered many rapture memories from my days as a research librarian. The opportunity and challenge of engaging in the research of faculty and students over the years has been one of the joys of my professional life. Some of my favorites: the archaeologist tracing the history of turpentine from the Middle East to Europe by analysis of Renaissance painting paint fragments; an Abigail Adams quote from a letter to her husband inscribed on the fireplace mantle in the East Room of the White House; details of Pablo Neruda’s life; details of a Congolese form of voodoo practices in Cuba; and, who said “We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities,” Yogi Berra or Pogo?

In each case, except the last, the search for an answer resulted in lots of sidetracks and lots of new related information—some for the researcher, but all for me!

Central Research Room at National Archives Building in Washington DC
Central Research Room, April 5, 1938. Records of the National Archives (RG 64). The Central Research Room is located on the 2nd floor of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

As an administrator I have continued some of the rapture by visits to my reading rooms (at Duke, the New York Public Library, and now the National Archives) and conversations with researchers—conversations about their research and their discoveries. And social media now plays a role in the process. One particular researcher posts his discoveries to his Facebook page and I try to stop by the reading room to take a gander and learn the significance of the find.

And that is why I have devoted my life to facilitating access to information!

P.S. The Yogi vs. Pogo question is still open, if there are any takers. It landed on my desk many years ago as a result of a conversation between Chuck Vest, then President of MIT and Al Gore, then Vice President of the United States!

13 thoughts on “Rapturous Research

  1. I can relate! DOCUMERICA is my personal rapturous research. I can’t get enough, and have to be careful not to get disctracted by the photographs and/or subjects depicted. Currently I’m excited to get an extra copy of the Searching for the Seventies exhibition cataloged shipped off to Terry Hasse. She’s the New Ulm Bride depicted with her bridal party in the exhibit. I found her due to a rapturous research experience, and I can’t wait for her to see her photograph in the catalog. Same goes for researching my family’s genealogy. I recently discovered my great-great-grandfather listed in cod fishing logs from Maine. I found them at the Waltham, Massachusetts, Regional Archives. I can’t find any record of his death, so I’m starting to believe he may have been lost at sea. Just can’t get enough!

  2. I love the idea of giving a name to “research rapture.” A thorough understanding of the phenomenon is almost a prerequisite to working with the public in a research institution. I’m sure that most, if not all, of us can empathize with succumbing to the “thrill of the search.”

  3. I would fell dramatically more rapturous if we had a citation from Walt Kelly’s comic strips, his interviews, his bios or his Nachlass – or from documented testimony from the Yogi of Berra (or even Yogi Bear from the Jellystone archives) that he heard either Pogo or Walt Kelly say it first. For me the search continues. Back to the archives and keep digging until you meet the scrupulous standards of the finest scholarship!

  4. The photo of Central Research brings back fond memories of my 1st job at NARA during the Summer of 1990. I saw the picture and knew it instantly. If it was Summer and 7ish, we’d hear the band across the street.

  5. The research room picture brings memories of Rapturous Research in the 90s. The room looked the same although I think there was a cranky copy machine in the back corner. Total involvement in research is definitely rapture – Archives II is a good place to seek that state if one can manage time to get there.

  6. Oddly, as an archivist often my most satisfying of experiences are in acquainting researchers with government publications. Recently a fellow from California was killing time while he was in the downtown National Archives Building since he knew what he wanted was with State Department in College Park. His objective was to learn about Cold War cultural programs sponsored by the State Department. We determined that there were several boxes at College Park of S1.67 records within Record Group 287, Publications of the U.S. Government, which, no doubt, will include the basic information he wanted.

  7. The Title says it all. There’s nothing like finding new facts which lead to more research and unanswered questions.

    Thanks for sharing the image of the Central Research Room in 1938, I’m hooked on old photos which share our history.

  8. Thanks for this post. I really admire all that you and NARA are doing to help DPLA get off the ground. A practical, user centered conversation about how libraries, archives and museums can share better on the Web with each other is long overdue. Also, 1.2 million items is a great way to come off the starting line!

  9. Oh, Sean just defined me. Put me in front of a computer or a bookshelf and I won’t hear a word you say afterwards.

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