I had not used the old Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature recently, so I had not had to struggle with its subjects and sub-headings. I pulled volumes 28 (March 1968 - February 1969) and 29 (March 1969 - February 1970) off the shelf and went to the V section of volume 29, where I found "Vietnamese war, 1957 -," which is a more honest subject heading than "Vietnamese Conflict" used by Library of Congress Subject Headings then and now. Under the subject I found all these subheadings:
- Aerial operations
- American participation
- American troop withdrawals
- Anecdotes, facetiae, satire, etc.
- Atrocities - Songmy massacre
- Campaigns and battles
- Damage to property see Vietnamese war - Destruction and pillage
- Destruction and pillage
- Economic aspects
- Equipment and supplies
- Foreign participation
- Legal aspects
- Medical and sanitary affairs
- Moral and religious aspects
- Moving pictures see Moving pictures - War films
- Pacification programs
- Peace and meditation
- Peace and meditation - Negotiation meetings, May 1968 -
- Peace and meditation - Negotiation meetings, May 1968 - Anecdotes, facetiae, satires, etc.
- Personal narratives
- Press reports and censorship
- Prisoners and prisons
- Protests, demonstrations, etc. against
- Protests, demonstrations, etc. against - Marches on Washington, November 1969
- Protests, demonstrations, etc. against - Moratorium day, October 15, 1969
- Protests, demonstrations, etc. against - Moratoriums, rallies, etc., November 1969
- Protests, demonstrations, etc. against - Moratoriums, rallies, etc., December 1969
- Psychological aspects
- Public opinion
- Relief work
- Social aspects
- Television reports see Television broadcasting - War news
- War alms
- Women and the war
Under each subheading was any number of citations to magazine articles. "Heroes," "Photography," and "Relief work" only had one citation each. "Guerrillas" and "Propaganda" had only two each. "Atrocities - Songmy massacre," which refers to the My Lai massacre, had 39 citations. "American participation" had the most, more than a page in tiny print. Under each subheading the citations were listed alphabetically by the article title.
Looking at the pages of tiny print, I really hoped the client had the title right. I looked at "Casualties" first, but no articles started with the word "One." I scanned for "One" under the other sub-headings without luck. Then I came back to "Casualties" and read each entry, looking for an item from Life. I found it near the end:
Vietnam one week's dead: May 28-June 3.
1969: a record and a tribute. il Life 66:20-
32 Je 27 '69
Then I took microfiche to our reader/printer and found the article with all the photographs. I was struck how young the soldiers looked. For many, Life had used their senior pictures from their high school yearbooks. Many seem to look right at you.
While the process seemed antiquated, I actually found what I wanted within three minutes with reference desk interruptions. I used to use the Readers' Guide constantly, and I easily moved back into the needed mindset. It has shortcomings, but it does still cite the literature of its day in some useful groupings. If I wanted to study the economic effects of the war, I would find a collection of selected articles on the topic together. Long ago an H. W. Wilson Company indexer put them all together for readers. It was the best service of its day for the public library researcher.
People say I am pretty good with database searching. I think I am because I was good with the tools that we used to use before we were online. There may still be value in teaching fundamental searching concepts by using the old tools, getting deep into pages full of citations that have to be visually sorted. Results did not just appear on a screen. Will learning the old tools be an option long? Who will retain old tools when budgets and space are strained?