I recall doing research in high school by getting on the LIRR and visiting the New York Public Library. It had the most enormous card catalog room. Where I would look up some obscure references and hand them to the librarian.
In time my book would appear, and I could sit in the reading room. There was NO checkout from the New York Public Library — at least not for lowly high school students like myself.
The other way to do research in those days was to call the library reference desk. My local library which was no larger than a small mall store had a reference desk where you could ask questions in person or by phone.
This great article http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/28/librarian-new-york-public-librarys-quirkiest-enquiries reports on questions asked the New York Public Library during the pre-computer, pre-Internet days. The questions are hand written on 3×5 cards.
‘Is this the place where I ask questions I can’t get answers to?’ – Phone question, September 13, 1947
‘Question received over telephone: Any statistics on the life span of the abandoned woman?’ 1963
Check it out.