24 March 2013

Chasing Footnotes: My Favorite Search Technique

I'm a notorious footnote chaser.

It takes me forever to read any text that contains superscript numbers. It takes me even longer than forever with endnotes, because I'm constantly flipping back and forth between the text and the bibliography and notes at the end of the article or the back of the book. The other day, for example, I finally started reading a book that Gena Philibert-Ortega told me about over a year ago: The Passport in America: The History of a Document, by Craig Robertson.[1] The second endnote for the Introduction is like a mini literature review, and it made me want to stop reading immediately so I could track down each of the nine items mentioned within.

I don't remember exactly when my footnote chasing habit began or how I learned about the technique. Perhaps it's a skill that evolved naturally, an outgrowth of my relentless curiosity. Whatever the case may be, footnote chasing has definitely served me well in my search for quality information.

In this post I mentioned Sadie Peterson Delaney, a librarian who pioneered the practice of bibliotherapy to treat veterans of World War I in Tuskegee, Alabama. The "selected bibligraphy" at the end of an article about Delaney[2] not only led me to a newspaper column written by Eleanor Roosevelt,[3] but to a number of articles written by Delaney herself.[4]

Once I decide to take a closer look at an item mentioned in a footnote, I have to figure out how to locate that item, and then the chase is on. At least it's good exercise!


[1] Craig Robertson, The Passport in America: The History of a Document (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[2] Betty K. Gubert, "Sadie Peterson Delaney: Pioneer Bibliotherapist," American Libraries 24 (February 1993): 130, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25632815.

[3] Eleanor Roosevelt, "My Day," transcript by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1957&_f=md003698 : accessed 24 Mar 2013); citing original column distributed by United Features Syndicate, 18 Jan 1957.

[4] S. P. Delaney, "The Negro Veteran and His Books," Wilson Library Bulletin (June 1932): 684-686; Sadie Peterson Delaney, "The Place of Bibliotherapy in a Hospital," The Library Journal (15 Apr 1938): 305-308; and Sadie P. Delaney, "Time's Telling," Wilson Library Bulletin (February 155): 461-463.

Copyright © 2013, Madaleine J. Laird. All rights reserved.

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