The lost art of library research

Book-based research produces a more satisfying study

Here’s the thrilling lowdown on how I write a research paper. I sit down at my laptop. I type in a google search on my topic, and then scroll through my results, opening about ten different tabs that could be potentially useful. Usually I skim through about half of each article before getting distracted and look up Craigslist ads.

The other day, when I was on the brink of toppling into this unproductive research system once more, I realized how thoroughly it didn’t work.

I decided to try a different method for studying, called “The Book.” This brought me to the MSU library, where I ended up sitting cross-legged in an aisle, my lap stacked high with books. I guess that’s the old school equivalent of opening a million tabs on my browser.

I loved the feeling of disconnection from the internet. The experience of looking up my topic in the index of each book and reading through the entire section was so satisfying, and I felt like I absorbed a much larger amount of information. Here’s why I believe that print books help us learn more in quantity and quality.

Books give us a better gamble at staying focused.

We’re used to multitasking online, and we automatically fall into that habit even when we want to focus on just one thing. If we’re trying to read five sources at once, we don’t truly ingest what they’re saying, and this creates more work, because we have to read back through our sources multiple times. We don’t try to read five books simultaneously – so why is it productive to read multiple articles at once on the Internet?

I automatically trust books more than online sources.

Somehow, I hold onto this strange belief that books are more credible than anything online. After all, someone had to agree to publish a book. The online world is more dicey, because anyone can throw words out there if they have the right platform.

Books are simply more satisfying.

When I open a book I see the chunk of text I want to read in front of me. I start at the beginning, and physically move my eyes down the page until I’m done, or until I turn the page. I can physically see where I started, the thick width of pages that I’ve read, and how far I have to go. In contrast, when I read on a screen, my eyes sit still while I scroll scroll scroll up and down. Not only are the moving words distracting, but there’s no sense of progress that accompanies reading from a screen.

There’s probably some scientific study to back this up, but I find my experience with print and screens to be enough.

I challenge you to try this cool vintage way of studying and see how you feel afterward. You might find it super rewarding. You might think it’s too much work. Either way, there’s definitely a place for both screens and print in our education world today. We just need to learn how to balance the benefits of both. One final reason why to choose books?

They’re way easier to cite in APA format.

If that argument doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.

Photo: “Books” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  cams-not-in-lux 

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