Libraries and my Research Method

So, I have this interesting reaction to being nervous/worried/concerned about changes or new elements in my life:

I research the heck out of them.

Sometimes, this means the traditional Google search, where I read the top ten helpful pages and afterwards feel a little more in control and stop looking. But when I need solid opinions, or in the time before Google became my best friend, I instead went to the library.

I love libraries. We have a wonderful relationship where I use and abuse them, and in return I occasionally pay small fees when I overstep my bounds. I’m pretty sure all of my inborn female “love of shopping” got channeled into library browsing. And that’s great, because it’s like the Monopoly money of shopping. It’s the best parts of shopping without any of the costs. You can search through shelves of products, pick out all the things that look interesting, not pay a dime even when you buy things that in hindsight you didn’t really need. And best of all within a month or two the items have been returned (with no glares from the customer service desk) and you don’t have the stuff cluttering up your house.

Yes, I might just be a little obsessed. But I find the library to a great destressor. I don’t know if anyone else feels better when they smell paper or can run their hand down a row of spines, but I find it fun and relaxing.

But I digress. I was talking about researching topics as a way of calming myself about upcoming life changes.

For library research, my method goes like this:

  1. Check out as many books as possible on the topic, and any books that happen to be shelved near those books. (This results in 20 to 40 books and a receipt that’s longer than my arm).
  2. Take the books home. Sometime in the next few days, go through the books a little more carefully, fully reading the back of the book/the inside cover. Usually, I’ll find a few books that are not remotely helpful to my situation, or a few with premises that I simply cannot stand. These go into the return pile without even being opened. (This leaves 15 to 25 books that might be useful).
  3. Next, I check the table of contents of the books that might be helpful (but I don’t know for sure). If they look promising, I might even read the introduction. This is to check that the author has a writing style that I can tolerate. Not all books pass this test. Most times, this is enough to eliminate a few more books. (Leaving 10 to 20 books).
  4. At this point, I start reading the books that I know will be helpful. These are usually the bestseller ones, with titles or authors that I’ve heard of before. I go through almost all of these before tackling my pile of “maybe” books again. (There are 3 to 7 of these slam-dunk books).
  5. Now, I take the rest of the books and I skim though them. Does the table of contents mention any new topics that the books I’ve read haven’t covered? Do they offer counterpoints to what I’ve already read? Is the author just awesome or different enough that I’d read their book for fun even if I don’t learn anything? If none of these get’s answered “yes”, than the book gets returned. Otherwise, it goes into the “must read pile” with the bestsellers.

Some examples of topics that I’ve researched using this method: How to succeed in college (I didn’t follow through with most of this advice. Ooops?), Personal Fiance (when I discovered Green with Envy), Independence/Career advice (Still feel shaky in this area. I’ll let you know when I have something worth sharing), what I should/could actually do with money (Millionaire Next Door, Richistan), and I’m currently looking up investing (Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Bogleheads Guide to Investing).

(Note: Yes, I know those are mostly about PF. I get that. I do. I’m still telling myself that this blog won’t be a PF blog, and maybe one day I’ll believe it.)

I get some interesting results using the library to do research. Some books I learn a lot from and they shift how I view the world (most of the PF books listed). Some of the books I just find amusing even if I don’t learn much (most of the college books, the finance book “Shoo, Jimmy Choo!”). Sometimes, I miss out on fundamental books because the library doesn’t have them or they’re checked out, but for the most part I feel that I’ve come out with a pretty well-rounded education on anything that I’ve used this method on.

In summary (tl;dr): Use and abuse your library. It’s like shopping without paying anything, and there is no penalty for checking out books you don’t read!


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