Sunday, August 5, 2007

Library Lovin'

"Can't you find that online?"

I'm not blaming the family member who posed this question. He was only trying to help.

Here's what happened: I told said family member that I was headed to the library to research the history of the shore towns, and he figured I should be able to find that information online. True, I could find bits and pieces, and I could plunder Wikipedia. But the journalist in me (which I'm sure my editor appreciates) knows that those summaries aren't enough, and that Wikipedia can be very wrong.

So I went about things the old fashioned way -- I went to the library, specifically the Paul Robeson Library at Rutgers University-Camden (RUC).

Me and Paul have a history. My graduate degree is from RUC. At the time, I was working part time, going to school full time and freelancing, so I spent a lot of time with Paul, reading, writing, killing time and sometimes napping between classes at one of his many desks and tables. It's not a pretty library, but that's part of the charm. There's nothing to distract you except for what's on the page in front of you. I like the basement level. It's quiet and chilly enough to call for long sleeves (why I work better in chilly temperatures, I'll never know -- I went to school in Florida, for Pete's sake). The windows are too high to look out from. Throw in my iPod to block out noise of other library patrons, and you have the perfect environment in which to read about the history of South Jersey shore towns. Plus, it's a Rutgers Library -- you can't get much better than that, especially when it comes to information about New Jersey.

And I certainly learned a lot:

The Summer City by the Sea by Emil R. Salvinti
It's an illustrated history of the rise and fall and rise of Cape May. Salvinti includes a chapter about the fire of 1878, which destroyed more than 35 acres of the city, from how it started to how much it destroyed. He even included a fold out map of the ruined area -- I've strolled those acres many times and can't even imaging how devistating it was to lose it all of that at one time.

Stone Harbor by T. Mark Cole and Cheryl Glasgow
Stone Harbor's been on the leading edge of wildlife preservation for quite some time. The town established a bird sanctuary in 1947, and the Wetlands Institute in 1972. They even ran a "Save the Point" campaign in 1970, long before Al Gore was cool. Or hot and bothered about the earth being hot and bothered.

Sea Isle City by Michael T. Stafford
Sea Isle City was founded by Charles K. Landis, who wanted to create a resort town much like the ones he'd seen on vacation in Italy. I doubt anyone thinks "Italy" as they're cruising Landis Avenue in Sea Isle City, but, hey, at least it was a start.

Ocean City by Frank J. and Robert J. Esposito
This family friendly resort was founded in 1879 as a Christian resort, which is the initial link to the town still being dry -- very dry. You can't even BYO to Ocean City restaurants. And, as of publication of this book at least, acclaimed author Gay Talese vacations here.

America's Boardwalks: From Coney Island to California by James Lilliefors.
This was my favorite of the bunch. Lilliefors is a long-time newspaper man and wraps the history of each boardwalk town into character studies of the people who make them unique. He writes in detail about how the Morey family established amusement piers on the Wildwood boardwalk, then took over and renovated their competition. I also like Lilliefors account of what architect Steven Izenour said about Wildwood: "Tacky with a capital T...what you need to do is take Tacky to new heights. In an increasingly homogenized commercial world, it's the perfect counterpunch strategy, and given the years of ad hoc evolution it took to make it what it is, nobody, not even Disney, could beat you at your game." Izenour was a huge champion for savoring and promoting Wildwood's Doo Wop architecture, which you can read about here.

I might have been able to find a lot of this information online, but it was much easier to flip through these books and jot down my notes. Sometimes the old fashioned way works just fine.

By the way, my master's degree isn't in writing or journalism. It's in literature. Do I use the degree in my current profession? Of course. I review books, and the only difference between yesterday's morning of research and any research I did for a graduate class paper is that, this time, I'm the one being paid for the work, instead of paying someone else for allowing me that privilege.

What I'm Listening to: Sounds of Sinatra.

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