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Five Things No One Tells You About Library Research

Not For You!

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Academic works not only aren't written for students, they're not written for people who only read English. Half the books in the Young Research Library are not in English. We buy books from around the world, and 99% of the world's written material is never translated out of the original language. Translation is expensive. If you're studying Mexico, don't be surprised when the vast majority of books and articles on the topic are in Spanish!

Most academic works aren't written for students . . .

Many students fail to recognize the point of academic journals and books. Though you're required to use them for your papers, they're not actually written with you as an audience. They're written by professors and researchers to other professors and researchers in the field, as part of the ongoing "academic discourse" by which researchers communicate, debate, and advance their fields. Academic authors are talking to other experts and have zero interest in making their work "accessible" to a bunch of snot-nosed undergrads. Undergrads don't sit on their tenure committees.

. . . and the ones that are probably aren't in the library.

Of course there is a type of writing specifically intended for students to read: textbooks.

Unfortunately, textbook publishers are in it for the money, and they know they have a captive market which is required to read their products. So they jack up the prices. More importantly, they come out with new editions every year specifically to undermine used textbook sales, even if the "new edition" is just the last one re-organized with a few new pictures and different fonts. And professors have to assign the latest edition to their students; only the latest version is in-print and reliably available, and they can't teach effectively if every student has a different version with a different chapter 5.

Because of these issues, there's just no way any university library can afford to buy them all. If we bought even one copy of every textbook required on campus, it would eat up a huge chunk of our book budgets, leaving us with a) far less money to buy actual academic books and journals (the kind needed by faculty and grad students) and b) huge collections of out-of-date textbooks that no one uses. So most academic libraries buy very few textbooks.

Result: You have to learn to read academic jargon.

Of course, half the point of getting a university degree is learning to understand academic writing. But that goal is often approached in a sink-or-swim manner. In many fields there's not much written between the "Intro to Xology" textbooks and the hardcore academic insider materials, so you may be in for a shock when you transition out of the lower division courses.