Last night I was in the library, researching some extremely specific things about Ireland. I’d spent several hours online, and found quite a bit of what I needed, but not everything. I walked up to the online catalogue, found the call numbers in that general subject area, and went to the shelves to browse. I found the exact book I needed, one put out by the Irish government more than a half-century ago, with extremely obscure and precise data. It was in the reference section, and the librarian got me the copies of the particular pages I needed. If I’d gone there first, I’d have saved hours.
This afternoon, I was in a different library. Again, I’d done lots of online research on a certain specific topic. When I asked the librarian for a reference book, I was taken to the exact encyclopedia I needed. In 150 minutes I’d accomplished more than I had in the past 12 hours. Without the prior 12 hours of work I wouldn’t have understood the materials nearly as well, nor been able to pass judgment on the opinions of the authors, but my method of tackling the subject was, again, less efficient for having started online and later gone to paper.
I’ve noticed that, among both older and younger people, there’s a growing contingent of those who believe that if you can’t find it online, it must not exist. Don’t get me wrong– I love having so much information so easily accessible online, and there are sites that are especially important and world-changing (e.g., Khan Academy), and sites that are excellent springboards to launch further study (e.g., Wikipedia). But the internet has holes that are sometimes hard to see. Your local public library is often the most efficient source of reliable, in-depth information. Go there and enlarge your world!