University libraries are just as valuable as Genealogical libraries in my opinion. Depending on the research task, perhaps even more so. As with anything else in genealogical work, research at a university requires pre-planning. Anytime I'm traveling to an onsite facility for research purposes, I've already spent at least a few hours online determining what I want to look out, how to get there, where to park, what to eat. I even plot out nearby Starbucks locations. All of this is done well in advance. Onsite research is always going to have an expense attached to it. Just fuel, parking, and lunch can add up. So when I go, I have a very direct plan on what I am hoping a accomplish. I never come back empty handed. Ask yourself what you are hoping to accomplish. If the answer is fuzzy or uncertain, your outing is called a Field Trip, not a Research Trip. Field Trips have their place, but Research Trips pay-off.
For example, a recent visit to the University of California (UC) at Berkeley. UC Berkeley is a major research facility. If it isn't the largest university library in California, it has to be close. During my standard genealogical research, I am constantly identifying off-line documents I want to view. I search these in World Cat (http://www.worldcat.org/), and very frequently UC Berkeley pops up as the closest repository with the item I'm looking for. Generally, I wait until I have a day's worth of research stacked up on my Research List before jumping in the car.
Parking: On this visit, I identified parking more convenient then I had used in previous outings.
According to the university's parking related website (http://pt.berkeley.edu/parking/visitor/lots) the Lower Hearst Lot has all day paid visitor parking. Confirmed. Although, one needs to access the this parking structure on the second level, from the
side street - Scenic Ave. This requires some negotiation in the neighborhood; a few turns to get there. Once on the second level, look for the gold color signs identifying the visitor parking. All day, $20. Automated pay stations on the same level.
With the car tucked in for the day, the libraries were just a short walk into the center of the campus. UC Berkeley, like most major universities, has several named libraries. For our purposes at this campus, the libraries we need are contiguous. With the campus map
(http://www.berkeley.edu/pdf/campusmap.pdf) you have already printed out at home, point toward the Bancroft Library.
The visiting genealogist will be interested to two areas of this library facility; the Newspapers and Microform Room and the Gardner Stacks.
Newspapers and Microform Room: This a gold field, full of gold mines! I'm a huge fan of Newspaper Research. I am often frustrated with what isn't on any of the numerous online newspaper resources. Located downstairs, the Newspapers and Microform Room is mainly 35mm mircofilm of old newspapers.
Sorting is geographical, not unlike a genealogy collection, Country, then local jurisdiction, then newspaper. I was interested in all newspapers from Ukiah California (Mendocino County) for a certain date in March of 1874. So my sort was United States, California, Mendocino County. Then I had several papers to choose from. There are international holdings also. Check the university's online catalog and pay particular attention to the actual holdings for the paper(s) you want. Missing papers are common place in newspaper research. In fact it is the norm.
For my purposes, I wanted to see all newspapers for Ukiah on or shortly after 15 March 1874.
Through my online research, I was able to pin down this date for a newsworthy event that took place on Main Street that Sunday afternoon. I wanted to see what the papers said about it. With the date, I went to the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/#tab=tab_newspapers) to find out what papers existed in Ukiah in March of 1874. Two were found, the Independent Weekly Dispatch and the Mendocino Democrat. Next, I went to World Cat and discovered UC Berkeley had both. From World Cat, I examined the university's online catalog and confirmed that, not only did they have both papers, they had them for March of 1874. None of my online newspapers sites had anything for both this location and time frame.
At the university, I pulled both microfilm reels. The event took place on Sunday, 15 March 1874. Both papers were weeklys, published on Saturdays. This meant the event was going to be six days old when the papers came out. I kept my fingers crossed.
The Newspapers and Microform Room has several computer viewers to read
microfilm. These use the same software found in any Family History Center; Power Scan 2000. If you've used a viewer in a FHC, this will be easy for you. The college students who work in the room are very helpful also. Images are saved off to the thumb drive you bring with you (never research without a few in your bag). PDF format.
I found what I was looking for! Twice, once in both papers. The information not only confirmed the story, it also gave me the names of those persons involved. My next step will be a visit to the Historical Society in Ukiah, in search for photos.
Gardner Stacks: This is the main collection of books in library. Follow the signs under the same roof
as the Newspapers and Microform Room. Gardner is a multi-floor library. Check in at the front desk is required. I had to show my driver license [its a Driver License, not a Driver's License, believe me...I've seen many in my law enforcement career] and they logged me in by name. No library card is need to access and view books in the stacks. Ask for a map from the front desk staff that will show you where things are by call number. On my most recent visit, I saw a genealogical book the Family History Library didn't have. World Cat showed it at UC Berkeley and BYU Provo.
Eats: There is a small cafe in the Moffitt Library building next to the main
library building. Never been there. I take a short walk off campus to Center Street. Several sit down as well as To Go lunch choices there.