Friday, April 02, 2004

Small Rant

I live in a small town that has a small library and so it is not unusual for the library not to have a book I am interested in. Since Kansas is full of small towns the state has a Interlibrary Loan System (ILS). If you want a book that your library does not have you send a request through ILS and they will find the book at another in state library and then mail it to your library. It works well.

I just received a copy of A History Of God by Karen Armstrong and am peeved to find out someone before me has marked up the book. Pages and pages of sentences and paragraphs highlighted with blue and pink markers and a few comments written in ink in the margins on some pages. What kind of moron defaces a library book like this? Who wasn't taught by their mother as a child not to write in books, especially books that do not belong to you.

Since the book came from a college library I've a sneaky suspicion that some student decided to save money and use the library copy of a book that was required reading is some class. I say to that student fine, but that does not give you the right to deface the book. Do you know how hard it is to read a page that has almost every line of type underlined in dayglow blue? Do you know how hard it is to concentrate on the written words when there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for the words to be highlighted?

Highlighting is a study technique for lazy people that doesn't really work. The following excerpt is from a paper, How To Study, put out by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In this passage the author talks about active reading, reading to understand :

There are some other tricks for active reading. One, of course, is to highlight important or interesting passages. There are several ways to do this. The worst is to use a yellow highlighting marker (or hot pink, or whatever color you like). The main problem with this is that you will tend to find almost every sentence to be important or interesting. As a consequence, every page will become yellow (or hot pink, or whatever). Not only does this defeat the purpose of highlighting--because if everything has been highlighted, then really nothing has been!--but the pages of your text will become damp, curl up, and be generally messy.

Yep, that's what looks like happened to this book. The author goes on to say:

You should also make notes in the margin of the text (if there's room, and if the text belongs to you.

In other words, don't write in books that do not belong to you. Instead of highlighting willy-nilly he suggests the following:

The best technique for active reading is to keep a notebook. In addition to (or instead of) highlighting a passage, copy it--verbatim--into your notebook. Be sure to begin your notebook with a full citation to the text for use in a bibliography, and be sure to write down the page numbers of each passage that you copy. Then, write down--at length and in detail--your comments on the passage.

So the next time you use a library book as a text don't act like such a putz. Get a notebook and copy down what you think is important. I'm sure you will not have the impulse to copy everything you read and will learn to distinguish between just what is important and what is not.

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