Tuesday, April 18, 2006

using a book

Talking with another librarian yesterday, it occurred to me that I make lots of assumptions about our patrons (who are mostly young undergraduate students). [I assume they know how to use books. But on reflection] I don't think they all really know (or think about, or care about) how to use a book. So here's something on "how to use a book", to keep it real.

.Look around. Where's the book? What kind of books are immediately beside it? What's above it and below it?

.Pick it up and feel of it. Turn it over in your hands. Thumb through it. Smell it, if you like. It's an old fashioned "object", but it's still useful as hell.

.Now down to business. Start at the end. Look at the "index". See anything related to what you're looking for? Thinking Think of synonyms for what you're looking for, and look those up too. Is it a good index (can you find what you need, or not?)?

.If the index is good for you, flip to those indicated pages and start scanning for your terms. Read the topic sentences. Get a feel for where it's going and what it's saying about your topic of interest.

.Maybe it doesn't even have an index. In which case, flip to the front of the book. Look at the table of contents. Do any of the chapters hit on your concerns?

.If so, go to the chapter and read the first couple paragraphs. Then scan the topic paragraphs sentences -- just sort of skip along the surface. If you get a sense that you're getting "warm", slow down and read the whole paragraph, or page, or chapter, or even the whole book -- if you think it's warranted and worth it, go deep.

.Alright. Good. Take down some information. What pages did you use? Write this down. Write down the title and author or editor. Get all your necessary citation information.

.Now look around again. Look at the books beside the one you started with. Similar topics? Yeah? Pick up another likely looker and



Listening: Steve Earle's Copperhead Road


Anonymous said...

I had this same revelation over the summer. The students just don't know how to approach a book. Your outline of the how to do it is terific! May I use your steps here as the basis for a handout for students? Let me know how to give you credit.

Betsy at a community college in Iowa

Anonymous said...

Betsy, glad you found this useful -- please modify, re-use and re-distribute as you see fit. Consider this post "copyleft".

By the way, the Northeast Kansas Library System reprinted it without permission in their newsletter (here: LINK ), but I figure what the hell... I don't mind because I get to count it as a byline.

Thanks for asking!



Anonymous said...

Thanks, Woody! I just shared it with an English instructor and she wants it included in the instruction I do for her. Now for something on magazines. It will probably start with the Lands' End catalog is not a magazine and go from there. Thansk again!