The Law Library of the Iowa State Capitol (Des Moines)

Thomas Mann:

First, what significant research resources will you miss if you confine your research entirely, or even primarily, to sources available on the open Internet?

And second, what techniques of subject searching will you also miss if you confine yourself to the limited software and display mechanisms of the Internet?

As I will demonstrate, bricks-and-mortar research libraries contain vast ranges of printed books, copyrighted materials in a variety of other formats, and site-licensed subscription databases that are not accessible from anywhere, at anytime, by anybody on the Web. Moreover, many of these same resorouces allow avenues of subject access that cannot be matched by “relevance ranked” keyword searching.

One can reasonably say that libraries today routinely encompass the entire Internet—that is, they will customarily provide terminals allow free access to all of the open portions of the Net—but that the Internet does not, and cannot, contain more than a small fraction of everything discoverable within library walls.

—Thomas Mann, The Oxford Guide to Library Research: How to Find Reliable Information Online and Offline, 3d ed (Oxford University Press, 2005), xiii.

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9 thoughts on “Why Brick-and-Mortar Research Libraries Still Matter in a Digital Age”

  1. Toni Gatlin says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I am shortly embarking on a course towards librarianship and am reassured to find others who also believe that books and physical sources of information and knowledge still have so much to offer our digital world.

  2. Steve says:

    That is certainly the truth. I just completed a ThM in historical theology, and my thesis had me in the library day and night. The bet, while useful, doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s required for serious research.

  3. l3gi0nnair3 says:


    (sorry. I saw that name and genuinely couldn’t resist.)

  4. I think there should be a distinction between “digital” and the “open internet”. Even your quote references “site-licensed subscription databases”, which is a digital resource.

  5. John says:

    This isn’t about “libraries versus the internet”. It is about the tools of serious scholarship. Unfortunately, the art and science of research inquiry is rarely taught outside of liberal arts schools. I suppose research is one of those things that is “caught” more than “taught”, but I find the situation disagreeable.

  6. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in the US, much less the rest of the world, lack the education or desire thereof, for the materials they can’t get on the Internet to be intellectually accessible. Most of those who can understand what I just wrote would be offended at the observation, true as it is. Most people view pursuing an education as advantageous when competing against others in the workplace. These same often disparage those who pursue academic endeavors for the purpose of advancing the sum of human understanding and improving the efficient application of one’s education in the workplace. As many schools as have begun from the premise of the latter and degraded into propagating the former, I don’t see that the paradigm will change much. The valuable intellectual capital stored in libraries will likely remain perused by very few.

  7. Roger Vest says:

    Looking for an answer – considering all of the changes in internet research since 2005, can someone tell me, is this book out of date? or is the information provided a good foundation to begin with?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Roger, I just finished reading the book. In answer to your question, “is this book out of date?” the answer is Yes (in some senses—mainly with regard to the digital stuff). In answer to your question, “is the information provided a good foundation to begin with?” the answer is Yes. I hope OUP will do a new edition to reflect the changes to the online world (though it’s not as out-of-date as one might think), but the majority of the book is still very relevant. It really does open up a whole new world of how to use libraries effectively. I’d recommend it if you are doing research.

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Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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