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As to space
Notes seek essentials, and therefore time should not be wasted on non-essentials. But, since slovenly, ill-assorted, illegible notes require extraordinary time for deciphering and arranging, it is of the greatest importance that you conserve your future minutes by making your notes neat, ordered, legible. Any abbreviations that you can surely remember are most useful. A complete sentence - which really has no special need for completeness — that you cannot read is worthless, but a few words that indicate the gist of the thought, and are immediately legible, are most valuable. Moreover, if you take time enough for every word, you are in danger of becoming so engrossed in penmanship as to lose the broad sweep of the lecture or book. Notes must drive toward unity and away from chaos. Your first principle, then, should be to set down neatly what will be of real service, and let the rest go.
any one who has made manuscripts from notes has learned how irritating, how bewildering a huge mass of material can be. Some subjects require such a mass, and in such a case the note-taker will use as much space as he needs. But economy, which is the cardinal virtue, will require as little diffusion, as great concentration as possible. If you can succeed in including everything of value on one sheet, instead of scattering it over several, you are to be congratulated. Only, be sure that you do not neglect something of real value. You can often save much space and effort and the use of stores of connecting words and phrases if you will indent and subordinate sub-topics so that the eye will show the relation at once. Such practice is admirable mental training, also, for it teaches the listener or reader to keep his brain detached for seeing relationships, for grasping the parts in relation to the whole and to each other. If interesting remarks which do not bear directly upon the main subject attract with sufficient intensity to make record worth while, set them down in brackets, to indicate their nature.
Remembering, then, that a concentrated barrage is of more value in attack than scattered fire, use as little space as may suffice for the essentials. That is the second principle.
As to effort, remember that the old sea-captain whose boat was so leaky that he declared he had pumped the whole Atlantic through it on one voyage would have entered port more easily with a better boat. If you do not take time and pains for grouping and ordering as you make your notes, be sure that you will have much pumping to do when the article is to be made. Grouping and ordering require concentration in reading or listening - but there is no harm in that. You ought to be able to write one thing and listen to another at the same time. Watch especially for any indication in a lecture of change in topic. And don't be bothered by the demands of formal rhetoric: if a complete sentence stands in your way, set your foot on it and “get the stuff.” And, of course, avoid a feverish desire to set down every word that may be uttered; any one who has seen the notebooks of students in which reports of lectures begin with such records as “This morning, in pursuance of our plan, we shall consider the topic mentioned last time, namely, etc.” become aware of the enormous waste of energy that college students show. Essentials, set down in athletic leanness that is the ideal.
In taking notes from books, people differ greatly. Some use a separate slip for each note, and much can be said in commendation of this system. Some are able to heap everything together and then divine where each topic is. In any case, strive for economy, catch the “high spots,” and as far as possible keep like with like, notes on the same topic together. It is always well, often imperative, to jot down the source of each note, so that you can either verify or later judge of the value in the light of the worth of the source.
Note-taking, in other words, is a matter of brains and common sense: brains to see what is important, and sense
to see that neatness and order are essential to true economy, the great virtue of notes.
With the best of intentions, then, you enter the library. Since each library is arranged on a somewhat individual scheme, and different collections have different materials, you will need to examine the individual library. A wise student will inquire at the desk for any pamphlet that may help to unriddle the special system. Librarians are benevolent people, do not wish to choke you, and are glad to answer any reasonable question. If your questions are formless, if you really do not know what you want, sit down on the steps and think it over until you do, and then enter boldly and politely ask for information. Don't, if you wish to learn about ship subsidies, for example, stroll in and inquire for "Some'n 'bout boats?” The complimentarily implied power of reading your mind is not especially welcome to even a librarian who is subject to vanity — and incidentally he may think that you are irresponsible. Any one who has been connected with a college library knows that the notorious questions such as “Have you Homer's Eyelid?” are not uncom
and seldom bring desired results. Since you have entered for information, summon all your resourcefulness to try every possibility before you agree that there is no help for you there. You can use the Card Catalogue, the Reference Books, the Indexes, Year-Books and Magazine Guides, and finally, if every other source fails, can lay your troubles before the librarian but not until you have fought bravely. Too many students are fainthearted: if they wish for information about, let us say, employers' liability, and do not at once find a package of information ready-wrapped, they sigh, and then smile, and then brightly inform the instructor, "The library has n't a single word about that subject!” The Card Catalogue does not list employers' liability, let us say, and you do not know any authors who have written on the subject. Do not
despair; look up insurance, workmen, accidents, social legislation, government help, and other such titles until your brain can think of nothing more. Only then resort to outside help.
The Card Catalogue will contain a card for each book in the library: if you know the title, look for it. If you know the author but not the title, look for the "author card.” If you know neither author nor title, look for the general subject heading. For each book will usually have the three cards of subject, author, and title. If the subject is a broad one, such, for example, as Engineering, do not set yourself the task of looking through every card, but, if you wish for a treatise on the history of engineering, look for the word History, in the engineering cards, and then examine what books may be collected under that heading. If you find cross references, that is, a recommendation to “see" other individual cards, or other subject headings, do not overlook the chance to gain added information.
Most of us too often forget the encyclopædias. If the catalogue has been exhausted, then see what the encyclopædias may contain. Look in the volume that contains the index, first, for often a part of an article will tell you exactly what you wish, but the article as a whole will not be listed under the subject that you are seeking. The Encyclopædia Britannica, the New International, the Nelson's Loose Leaf will be of service on general topics. For agriculture consult Bailey's Encyclopædia. For religion see the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (Scribner), the Jewish Encyclopædia, the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopædia of Religious Knowledge (Funk and Wagnalls), the Catholic Encyclopædia (Robert Appleton).
For dictionaries you will find the Murray's New English Dictionary, often called the Oxford Dictionary, The Standard Dictionary, The Century, Webster's New International, Black's Law Dictionary and others.
Often you will wish to find contemporary, immediate material. The magazines are regularly catalogued in the Reader's Guide, month by month, with a combined quarterly and yearly and then occasional catalogue, with the articles listed under the subject and the title or author. Use your resourcefulness here, as you did in the card catalogue, and do not give up. Poole's Index will also help.
Many annuals are of value. The World Almanac has a bewildering mass of information, as does the Eagle Almanac for New York City and Long Island especially. The Canadian Annual Review, the Statesman's Year-Book, Heaton's Annual (Canadian), the New International Year Book, which is “a compendium of the world's progress for the year,” the Annual Register (English), the Navy League Annual (English, but inclusive), and the American Year-Book, among others, will be of service. Often these books will give you the odd bit of information that you have hunted for in vain elsewhere. For engineering, the Engineering Index (monthly and collected) is useful.
For biography you will find Stephen's Dictionary of National Biography useful, and Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States. Do not forget the Who's Who, the Who's Who in America, and the corresponding foreign books for brief information about current people of note.
For what may be called scattered information you can go to the American Library Association Index to general literature, The Information Quarterly (Bowker), The Book Review Digest (Wilson), The United States Catalog (with its annual Cumulative Book Index), and the annual) English Catalogue of Books.
In using a book, employ the Table of Contents and the Index to save time. For example, you will thus be referred to page 157 for what you want. If instead you begin to hunt page by page, you will find that after you have patiently run your eyes back and forth over the first 156 pages, your