American Detective Fiction FSEM
December 6, 2012
The Glass Key Wikipedia Research
I began doing my research for this article where probably everyone else did as well: a Google search. I had done this many times before so I thought that maybe if I sat and sifted through the usual crap the internet had to offer that I could find something useful. I was tasked with finding the critical receptions of The Glass Key and so I casually searched “glass key critical receptions” thinking that it would find me many useful links. At first I thought I had hit a gold mine, considering every link was to a different review or opinion on Dashiell Hammett’s novel. After taking down a couple links and quotes I entered class that night feeling more than prepared; that was until I displayed what I had come up with and basically got shut down immediately. None of my information dated before 2007 and the links I was using were hardly educational. Back to square one.
With newfound passion to sit for hours and not stop until I had what I thought to be worthy I once again retreated to my Google safe place. This time was different; this time I was going to use filters and not trust any .com that claimed to be a know-all. I even had moved myself to the library to limit the distractions. I came away with a few notable names reviewing the book but once again nothing dating to before 1987. Being that I thought there was nothing that could help me besides changing the way I enter my Google search, I felt that I was doing very well. That night during class after my information was again not sufficient, Professor Groom suggested that as a class we should use Peter Catlin, a librarian at Mary Washington that specializes in these fields.
Instead of listening to Professor Groom like I should have from the beginning, I thought I would use our library’s own databases for my research instead. The databases are so huge and full of relevant information, that they were almost too much; I felt like I needed to include a little bit of everything. I ended up with what I thought I would be able to just transfer over to the Wikipedia article but it was actually still just a bunch of hooblah when I came to present it in class again. Running out of options, I reached into the back of my mind and remembered how much Jim Groom had mentioned Mr. Catlin and how much he could help.
That night I emailed Peter basically asking him if there was anything he could find on Dashiell Hammett or The Glass Key that dated before 1980, but preferably right around when the book was published in 1931. The next day after I had opened my email I found that Professor Groom was very right to recommend Peter because he is fantastic. He used the library’s personal search engine that can find things from other libraries nationwide and dished me some great information. I scheduled an appointment with Peter for the next day; I quickly became excited because I knew that my classmates, like me, were lazy and probably weren’t heeding Jim Groom’s suggestions to use Mr. Catlin.
After my meeting with Peter, I came away with three different critical receptions from newspaper from The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Bookman and each one had the original scan of the document. I also found out that Simpson library has quite the selection on Dashiell Hammett and his works (an entire six foot long shelf actually). Each book about Hammett mentioned The Glass Key at least four to five times and so it made my job a lot easier. Going to the index I would just look up the novel, and it usually even had its own contents about it (i.e Reviews, characters, etc.). Each book would bring up the different reviews of the novel, but most of them would repeat the same three or four names reviewing it, like Raymond Chandler, and so I figured that they were probably pretty important reviews.
Each book had so much information in fact, that I began adding to the other parts of the Wikipedia article’s Google doc. For example, The Glass Key although published as a novel in 1931, was originally run as a four-part series in the Black Mask magazine. I offered this information to Professor Groom and even he hadn’t known that, so they were a great resource, as was Peter Catlin. Using Peter actually almost felt like cheating since he was so helpful, but that just goes to show that if a professor suggests something, you should at least look into it.
This Wikipedia article project by itself has changed my almost decade old way of doing research entirely. For too long and too often I would trust any link or any information on the internet because I had never had the right way shown to me in a way where it warranted results. Basically what I am saying is not only did I get to read a very good book, but I also gained a life skill in the sense that this project has changed who I am academically and how I view certain research tools.