In today’s society of instant gratification where things get done with the snap of the fingers, it seems natural that the computer is the answer for students doing research papers for a class assignment. While occasionally they may find this to be the case, they are losing sight of what the true processes of research and learning are. But why should they bother doing all the leg work when Google will do it for them? The answer is imperative to the process of learning: students must learn how to be self-reliant and they must learn the invaluable tool of researching in order for them to realize their utmost potential. Using real books also usually means a trip to the library, which brings considerable other benefits including motivation, social interaction, and a sense of accomplishment. For these reasons, I strongly believe that students should be required to use real books in research papers.
Researching through books gives students the know-how and confidence to form their own opinions and perspectives rather than cut-and-paste ideas from what they type into a search engine. Doing in-depth research, writing a well planned paper, and getting the final work done is an accomplishment in-and-of-itself. Students learn the research skills necessary not only for a good education but for real life – a point they may not realize until later when it is too late. Internet search engines are great researchers, and while they give students an answer, going to the library and using real books makes the student earn it for themselves. More importantly, it helps students want to research and learn. Using real books to do significant research rather than just getting a quick answer from a computer is how the students “show their work.” Most professors will tell you that that process of learning and explaining is more important than even a correct answer. It forces the student to learn the research process, the Dewey decimal system, subject classification, and how to talk to a librarian one-on-one in order to come up with an “answer” (in this case their research paper). My professors at Columbia taught me some of the best research methods, all of which I needed for papers and my thesis, and which I still use today. With a real book you can underline the parts most applicable to the assignment, earmark the pages, and highlight the areas that need to be referred back to frequently, all of which can be easily read over and over again until the point is understood. Computers try to emulate this (even the PC uses bookmarks) but you can’t get the same feeling that you do with a book. The bottom line is that just getting the answer is not learning; but figuring out how to get the answer – now that’s learning and that’s why real books and sound research should be required in students’ papers.
At the library, students surround themselves with like-minded people in a very fostering environment that is conducive to research. This helps keep them focused and motivated. Surrounded by books, the collective knowledge speaks volumes (pun intended), and with all the inspiring, great minds that constitute that knowledge, it makes for a great motivational environment. One can’t help but want to learn more, no matter the subject. A library full of wonderful books conjures up images of the greatest minds that have shaped civilization, and it serves as a poignant reminder of how the most amazing thinkers of all time have used real books to research and learn, and not just a PC. These same great minds, these notable inventors and historians, include the very people who invented the computer and the Internet, as well as of course the printing press! By surrounding themselves with real books for research papers they feel connected to the subject in a way that a computer screen alone cannot provide. The librarian and their staff – the caretakers of this wonder we call the public library – are equivalent to having additional mentors outside of the classroom to guide students on how to use books not only for a research paper, but also to guide them to a section on other subject matters that may truly interest them. Finally, when a student comes to the library and sits down and researches, they can leave feeling they have put in a full and honest day of work, and feeling the true sense of accomplishment that comes with that. That’s why using real books for research papers should not only be required, but it should also be mandatory to do so in a library setting.
Using a computer as the sole tool for a research paper can prove to be too much of a distraction, especially if the student is a teenager. In this day and age of MySpace, online chat rooms, and video games, distractions will always win over a research paper. Instant gratification and using PCs go hand-in-hand and give students little incentive to do more than get the final work done. Books give students something tangible to dive into and allow them to immerse themselves in a subject, either for a school assignment or simply for their own reading pleasure. In short, the PC offers a myriad of distractions, and while students can use a PC to provide an answer, it is only through the use of real books that students are required to focus on research and earn their way to the answer.
There is a reason books have withstood the test of time. Our founding fathers, brilliant thinkers, writers, scientists, and all the greatest minds of times past have used the power of the written word to shape the minds that formed our modern civilization. They didn’t have computers, and look at all they accomplished! Let’s push our students to see the power of their own minds and reach their full potential. Let’s help them to realize all they can create and accomplish by thinking for themselves and applying their well-honed research skills. The self-confidence, self-reliance, and empowerment they will get by doing so will allow them to be all that their heart desires. By using real books, students will clearly see that it’s about more than the “A” they will get on the research paper. It is about the confidence they will build to walk through life well-prepared and well-armed with the skills of proper research. Try finding that through a search engine.