Over the past week or so I have expanded my research from internet and book-search to visit the archives and libraries that contain helpful resources for my project. These are: Brooklyn Public Library, the General Library, its Business Division and the Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Historical Society and New York Historical Society. As much as it would be helpful to be able to predict what I would find along the way, this has been a very unpredictable, frustrating and exciting “treasure hunt” for me. And a forth and back kind of process. I found for example that my visit at the Brooklyn Historical Society in the beginning of last week was an empty-handed experience in terms of finding concrete material, however, the librarians were incredibly helpful and gave me a lot of strategic advices for continuing my studies, which I would not have been without. So, I have found myself circulating around these places, collecting a bunch of material, however still not feeling that I have been able to collect it all. I guess this is an endless journey!

Anyways, I have learned a lot from these visits! Perhaps helpful for the rest of the class – and for future researchers, or at least joyful for myself to write down, I have listed my personally experienced do’s and don’ts at the archive! Here it comes:

– Don’t begin with looking through micro-films of newspapers from the late 1800s (with the intention of looking through it ALL up until today, in one day) without being exactly sure what to look for other than “titles that include “coffee house”, and without getting an overview over how many (hundred?)meters of micro film you would have to look through in total!

– Be quick to accept that the local newspaper that you expected to be a main source has been thrown away (!) in the last archive clean-up, and that you therefore cannot gain access to it at all. The Village, the local newspaper for Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, is no longer to be found at the Brooklyn Historical Society! Only a collection from 2005.

– Don’t feel sad when old books are so fragile in your hands that you cannot avoid ruining the pages a little as you browse though them. There might be an other beautiful copy out there…? The business directories from the Brooklyn Public Libraries’ Business Devision are really in a bad shape…

– Be aware that the key words you should be searching for may not be the ones you know when you get started. I learned from having no “finding hits” in my searches that the coffee shop might not have been called that back in the days, and that the pharmacy and drug store, or even the ‘luncheonette’ took up the same function. Having wise librarians at your side who knows such ‘common facts’ proves helpful!

– Expect everything and nothing from each visit. As I left the New York Historical Society with lots of photos and documentation, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection provided me with nothing but a few newspaper clips from the 1980s, which was a big disappointment.

At this point my searching has resulted in a ‘project database’ with all sorts of useful and less useful material relating to cafes spread all over Manhattan, and Brooklyn. My greatest challenge now is to analyze and curate my findings and decide whether I will be able to support my initial argument, or whether this will have to be reconsidered. Also, my poor findings in the Brooklyn archives have made me doubt if my focus on Dekalb Avenue is too difficult to support within the time frame of my research (one month left!), and whether I should, despite all my hours spend on this focus, stick to do a Manhattan study after all.

My next step is research on-site. I have already taken photos from inside and outside all existing cafes on Dekalb Avenue, however, I still need to research the past cafes whose architecture is now reused for different purposes. For this I will have to interview people on the street and the cafe owners to dig out unwritten stories from the past. I decided to wait with this exercise however until after my individual meeting that, hopefully, will bring clarity to my current confusion on whether to stick to Dekalb Avenue or move to Manhattan. Also, when this is finally decided, I will have to go back to the respective archives and find actual floor plans over the sites and rooms of my my case site-cafes.

On an ending note, I will just share with you a piece form my findings at the New York Historical Society, a page from the Coffee House Club’s “manifest book” from 1922. The left page lists the rules of The Coffee House, with point number six stating that there shall be no rules. This autonomous philosophy resonates so well with Habermas’ idea of the ‘free public sphere’ of the coffee house, free from the ties of the elite and left over to the value of the private person’s argument, as well as it very well embraces the current, contemporary culture of coffee houses as public wifi-offices – where, unless a rule that abandons laptops is posted on the wall, the coffee house has no rules for how we should use it or what kind of public sphere should be produced. That all depends on the time, the context, the people – and perhaps the technology at hand.