RESEARCH THE ANSWERS
Even in today’s perpetually plugged-in world, nothing beats getting dusty with some resources that can’t be found online. Think about city hall, local historical societies, off-the-beaten-path museums, trade associations, your college archaeology department, or -- yes -- the library. A great example is the Brooklyn Library’s Brooklyn Collection, which is loaded with resources from the borough’s early days. A particular highlight is their Historical Fire Insurance Maps collection -- composed of vintage neighborhood and building graphs that you can only access on-site. Remember how you were curious about that vacant lot? Here’s where you’ll find answers.
And don’t be shy if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for. An adventurous spirit and persistent attention are more than enough. “We don’t ask any questions,” says the collection’s reference archivist, Sarah Quick, emphasizing that you don’t need to be working on a PhD or flash any fancy credentials to get a look at their trove. “If you come in and say, ‘I want this thing,’ we’ll pull it for you.” Tip: Make an appointment first. The librarians will appreciate it, and may be able to dig up your materials so they’re ready and waiting.
Along with being downright fun, doing your own research can lead you away from the tourist traps. “When I was living in Ireland, I’d check out used book stores for older or privately published guides,” says Elsensohn. “They seemed to have recommendations for things that were either no longer as popular as they once had been, or niche enough that I wasn’t going to run into a busload of people.”