Five Lessons I Learned from my Trip to Britain

09 Mar 2013

I arrived home yesterday after being on the road for almost two weeks. It was a wild mixture of work and research with fun and friends. The trip was very productive, and, as always, I learned a few lessons I would like to share with you.



For a number of reasons, I did not have enough time to prepare my research schedule in advance. This resulted in lost opportunities once I arrived in London. Arriving Tuesday morning, I had the entire afternoon to do research. I decided to go to the National Archives, because it was the closest repository, and I needed to renew my reader card. Lesson number one: start preparing as early as possible. That way, if last-minute issues creep in, you still have a plan of attack for your trip.

When going to repositories, whether you have been there before or not, you must be prepared for anything. My last experience with the British Library was very positive. The staff in the Asia reading room was exemplary. I was able to examine a large number of manuscript materials and subscription databases (including one that led me to additional materials back home in Boston). My visit this time, in contrast, was less than positive. I spent quite a long time just waiting for assistance. It was a couple of hours into my time there before I made any progress in locating the materials I was looking for in the catalogue. Lesson number two: be prepared to spend longer amounts of time than you think you might have to at repositories, even to do simple tasks.

On one of the days I left London to spend the day in Northampton to research at the Northamptonshire Record Office. I had looked at rail tickets while I was still at home. As it turns out, I didn’t do enough homework. It wasn’t until I was already in London that a stray remark from a friend led me to realize that my search wasn’t broad enough. It turns out that I had several options for train transport, and I ended up saving more then $25 on the fare. Lesson number three: When making your advance preparations, make sure you broaden your research as widely as possible. And take advantage of your friends’ knowledge as well, asking them for help when possible.

It is one of the problems of living in modern society that we are susceptible to fraud. This week in London, I fell victim when my debit card information was stolen and used by criminals. Fortunately I caught the problem fairly quickly, before they could do too much damage. It is important to have a backup plan. Lesson number three: Monitor your credit and debit cards while on the road. Check your account online at least once a day. I was able to catch the fraud quickly and have the card cancelled before too much damage occurred. I then switched to my financial plan B for the rest of the trip.

On several research days I made major discoveries. This included a tremendous amount of information on various research subjects. There was no way I would be able to process and follow up on each of my findings during this trip. It is a wonderful problem to have: so much success that you are buried in information. You must have a plan in place to address this situation, otherwise you might end up paralyzed and not knowing where to go next. Lesson number four: allocate time each evening for triage. Review the day’s findings, and determine what you can follow up on during the remainder of the trip, and what will need to be postponed for another time. This is especially crucial as you reach the final day or two of your trip.