Bigger Pictures: So Much to Read, So Little Time

“The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring.”

                                                                                                                           ~  Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler, the author who gave us The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and Farewell, My Lovely, as well as generously providing the epigram for today’s blog post, died way back in 1959.  He had good reason to bemoan the “flood of print”.  During his career paperbacks became cheaper and easier to produce, to say nothing of large circulation magazines and daily newspapers, many of which published multiple daily editions. So while Old Ray didn’t live long enough to witness the mad proliferation of text brought to us courtesy of the world wide web, there was certainly a greater availability of potential reading material.

In the land of academic reading the idea that a student will savor what’s been assigned seems beside the point. When confronted with hundreds of pages of required reading, the first urge is just to power through, roll the eyeballs over line after line of words, words, words until this nightmare is over. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  Complete the assignment, finish the book, read the PDFs.  Move on.

Savoring, in Chandler’s parlance, here is akin to processing, to thinking deeply, which is after all what we’re supposed to be doing anyway.  I’m not saying that we can do that with every assigned page of text, but I am saying that we should at least pick out chunks that resonate with us as readers and we should reread these bits, and think about what these passages mean not just in the context of the class material, but beyond.

On the other side we should acknowledge the dilemma of those tasked with building the reading list and the syllabus. This requires more than anything else to strike a balance between breadth and depth. Deciding what should be skimmed and what to read deeply is as much art as science, even for those who assign the work.

This is an old tension, maybe even an ancient one. Did the sages of Sumer worry that the unprecedented availability of cuneiform tablets made it more difficult to appreciate what had been pressed into the soft clay with a stylus?  Sure.  Let’s go with that.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk

Notes from a long-time student: Books!

Every semester we all have to buy books. Lots…of…books! Whether they’re for a statistics, literature, or language course they add up, and not just in volume. But that’s usually not the end of the story. You start writing a final paper, you do your research, and you identify the perfect reference book. Most of the time your book is available in the library database–success! But every once in a while you run into the little red minus sign next to the words “Checked out.” E-Z Borrow, Borrow Direct, and Interlibrary Loan (ILL) are three great resources you may consider using. Here are a few scenarios that summarize the benefits of all three systems and provide guidance for using the one most appropriate for you.

I have an assignment due at the end of the month and the book I need is checked out at Penn.
If you’re pressed for time, try using Borrow Direct or E-ZBorrow. Borrow Direct is a rapid book request system that allows you to search a collection of over 60 million volumes through the libraries at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, MIT, Duke, Dartmouth, John Hopkins, Yale and Princeton. If a partnering university has your book it will usually arrive within 3-5 business days. You can also try E-ZBorrow. E-ZBorrow will search for your book in over 60 academic libraries in Pennsylvania and nearby states. If your book is unavailable through both of those mediums, try Interlibrary Loan. ILL takes longer deliver so be sure to adjust the “need by” date on your request to reflect your deadlines.

I need to borrow a book for the semester, should I request it through ILL or Borrow Direct?
Borrow Direct books are loaned out for six weeks at a time, and are non-renewable more than once, a total of 12 weeks. The semester is 14 weeks so this option can leave you in a bit of a crunch, especially at the end of the semester. Try ILL. Most loans range from 2-6 weeks but vary depending on the lending institution and can typically be renewed.

Penn doesn’t own the book I need. I found it on both Borrow Direct and E-ZBorrow but am told that the book is non-requestable. What should I do?
There are some core textbooks that are not available for request on Borrow Direct and E-ZBorrow, such as calculus textbooks. Try placing an ILL request.

Whatever your situation may be, try out these great resources to be connected with your eagerly awaited books. If you know you’ll need a particular book within a specified time frame, plan ahead!

Staff Blogger: Erica Saldivar Garcia