Saturday, 22 September 2012

Library psychology

Your attitude towards the University library is something that will no doubt be formed early on in your academic career. The way you use the library may help to determine your grade potential, and is more related to how you use it than the length of time you spend in it. There are a variety of approaches students apply to library based research and I will describe some of these to you below. Of course whether you are an undergraduate or a postgraduate will also have a big impact on how long you spend in the library and how successful your visit is . . .

During my years as a student and more recently as a supervisor of student dissertations I have identified the following approaches and each says something about your likelihood of success:

  1. Rare attendee: This first individual visits the library only to print off their essay because their printer at home is not working. This approach can work for some undergraduates, but is certainly not recommended for postgraduates - it shows a certain disregard for the importance of studying for your degree and more often than not a higher regard for your social life. In rare instances this disregard fro the library reflects an ability to acquire all the relevant sources from bookshops and the Internet. Although in some cases it simply reveals a supreme confidence in one's own genius. Success rating ++++ (for geniuses and wealthy Internet wizards) or ---- (for mortals).
  2. Collector: This individual is a hoarder and tends to be well-organised and generally has good intentions about completing a well-researched essay. They tend to visit the library with the suggested reading list when an essay is set – take out the books available from it and head home; only returning to the library to return the books after submitting the essay. This approach is more effective than the one above but is not particularly considerate of other users and can result in a somewhat eclectic bibliography - so again is not an ideal approach for the postgraduate. Success rating +++ or ++ (depending on how well the library is stocked at the time of your visit).
  3. Diligent (not in an obsessive way): This person visits the library, looks up all the information available in the area related to their essay, settles down at a desk with a bottle of water (out of sight) and takes copious notes (obviously on to a laptop these days). Once they have finished note taking they leave the library free of the heavy weight of books and return home to write their essay. Returning to the library only when the next assignment is set. This works for undergraduates and postgraduates and is especially successful if the approach is repeated in all relevant libraries (and is not one taken the night before the deadline!)!  Success rating ++++ or ++ (depending on how well the library is stocked at the time of your visit, and the frequency of your visits).
  4. Future Professor: This student takes their lunch and a magazine for break times (possibly also a torch in case they get locked in), and visits the library whenever the mood strikes them (often daily) (or in response to an essay being set) and settles in to find every book on the topic of interest, make copious notes and then produces the required assignment or a fat (Word) file of quotations and summaries for future use. This is brilliant if it suits your lifestyle and your mind, and you are doing a PhD, but can lead to total burnout early on, so take care if this sounds like you! Success rating +++++ (if you are a dedicated researcher with a passion for libraries) or ----- (if you start to feel isolated and lonely easily - in which case seek out company immediately).
This post is intended to get you thinking about how you are going to fit all the required reading for assignments into your schedule, and how you are going to approach the study side of your degree. 

If you are an undergraduate it is good to visit the library early on and become familiar with it as a 'safe environment' to work in. Library staff can be very helpful if you are feeling lost and can always give you a helping hand.

If you are a postgraduate, make sure you visit the library soon with reading list in hand to check the stocks of the books you are likely to need - then you can take action (by locating other libraries, pre-booking copies of books or visiting second-hand bookshops) if the supply of books looks limited. Of course as a postgraduate you are likely to be using a lot of 'reference only' journals and articles so as long as you don't wait until the last moment to visit the library you should be able to access the information you need.

Do feel free to post your thoughts on your own library style and let me know if there is anything I have missed.

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