A lot of historians like to do their research in libraries, but I’ve never been a fan of that approach. If it’s books I need to look at, I would far rather do it in the comfort of my own office and furthermore, I like to be able to scribble all over them, underlining key sentences or passages and jotting down notes in the margin. And there’s another advantage to owning them oneself – I’ve then got them forever, which is useful because I never quite know when I might need them again.
One of the problem of building up one’s own library is that the vast majority of books that I need to look at are a long time out of print, but this is where the internet comes in so handy. I do very little actual research on the internet, but I do order a large number of out of print books, and for this, www.abebooks.com is absolutely invaluable. I find I can generally get most books I’m after. For those who don’t know the site, it is a brilliant second hand book search engine. Booksellers around the world list their stock on the site and then prospective buyers simply look up a particular title and a list appears with every bookseller affiliated to them who has a copy. I usually opt for the cheapest.
Official histories are an essential tool, and although it is usually possible to get original editions, they can be very expensive. Fortunately, the Naval & Military Press have started producing facsimile copies of many of them, so their site is also always worth looking at. They have a mass of other titles as well.