screen time

I’m used to universities having a “main” library but I can’t tell which library here would be it. The two largest branches have people’s names attached to them. One is a “learning centre” while the other is a “library.” You don’t seen any books when you enter them.

The learning centre has classrooms and reading rooms (which are nearly indistinguishable architecturally from the classrooms, and people read in the classrooms when there’s no class in session) and a cafe, along with offices and a lecture room. The open spaces – the central common area on each floor, the hallways – have couches and soft chairs, and tables with hard chairs. These areas don’t have silence rules and they tend to fill up with people and their schoolbooks and laptops and food; often there are people sitting on the floor. The effect is to make the open areas seem like waiting areas, only there’s nothing to wait for.

Off to the side on a couple of the floors are book stacks, and down in the basement is the special collections and the university archives. There’s also a closed stack book storage area that’s not really stacks as we know them: this is the automated book storage. You go online and if the catalog shows the book you want is there, you put in a request and in about ten minutes it arrives at the circulation desk. This is great from a storage point of view but makes casual browsing a bit more difficult as you can see nearby titles online if you consciously look for them in the catalog, but they won’t catch your eye accidentally and you won’t be able to flip through them without putting in requests.

I spend more time in the “library” library. The two big libraries are distinguished by subject, and most of the humanities and social sciences, and most of the archives and library books are there. You might not see books right at the entrance but every floor has stacks (the entry floor has course reserves hidden behind the circulation desk) and the lower levels have larger underground storage and study areas. The call numbers are distributed such that the archives books are almost all in the basement (CD-) and the library books are almost all on the upper floor (Z-).

There are some good views from the upper floors but the carrel space is limited, and having wandered and failed to find a free space a few times last term, I decided that during daytime hours it’s easier to go straight to the basement to find a place to read. Later in the evening, if I’m still there, I might go upstairs.

I like these traditional study spaces. Very few people walk by and those who do are quietly browsing, there’s very little talking (except in the reference area but I go there only if I have need of reference), and the stacks are right nearby. But I find I rarely read books or print when I’m there.

Most of my course reading is article based (and if they’re not articles, they’re often book chapters), and most of the articles are online. When I was last in grad school this was true of many articles then too, but I usually either tracked down the print versions or printed them out myself. But sometime in the last couple of years I crossed a point where I became quite comfortable reading these things online.

Sometimes I’ll pull out the print version if I didn’t bring my laptop with me or if I want to read with no distractions, but I found that I no longer feel like reading online is another kind of reading. I’ve even found that I’m slowly adjusting to take notes on the screen rather than on note cards; this is probably helped by the fact that I was never much of a note-taker before, and my most useful notes have always been written summaries/reviews/responses. Or ephemera to guide my reading that I never looked up again.

I never made a conscious effort to effect this shift in habit. It makes me wonder if others have noticed the same thing and if all the talk about needing new types of screens, none of which I’ve used, to make electronic reading more comfortable will be overtaken by a change not so much in screens but in what is thought to be comfortable. In the meantime, one of my resolutions (not really a new year’s one), which is slowly gaining momentum, is to read more print – that is, more books – again.


  1. I’ve been comfortable reading articles on a computer for years now. Last semester my roommate was complaining about all the money she had to spend in printing fees for the huge amounts of reading her classes assigned and it was really not something I was able to relate to. I’ve hardly printed anything since I’ve been here.

  2. What are you, some kind of digital native?

    Yeah, some people in my program have been doing a lot of printing, which often seems to be a mix of too small pdfs printed as facing pages (to save paper) or too large type 8.5 x 11 pages one journal page at a time.

    Ironically, I’ve found that the best way to print an electronic journal article is to photocopy the facing pages from the print journal. I will occasionally photocopy/print something so I can read it on the bus, while eating away from home, or simply when I go somewhere without my laptop.

    I can read some things on my phone, but they can’t require a subscription and they have to be in html – no pdf support – so I usually use the phone’s internet ability just for regular web browsing.

Comments are closed.