Annotating borrowed books
July 31, 2017 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I've recently begun reading a lot more nonfiction for research purposes. However, I pretty much exclusively only read library books, and am having difficulty figuring out how to easily take notes without damaging the book. How can I be respectful but also make note taking less arduous?

I'm reading for a mixture of career-related research (psychology) and creative writing background--sometimes both at the same time, e.g. right now I am reading Is There No Place On Earth For Me? to get a better understanding of schizophrenia, and also for background details for a story I'm writing about someone's mother who was treated in New York for schizophrenia in the 70s. Thus, I need a way to capture not just ideas and concepts but specific details as well. This means I need to be able to mark specific lines, but also entire paragraphs (so I can't just write it down). I want to mark them so that I can go back later and type up more extensive notes when I'm done reading.

I read a lot and very quickly, and am on a graduate student budget, so purchasing these books isn't an option for me (and as a rule, I pretty much only buy books that I've already read and loved). For a while I'd been using sticky tabs to mark passages and make notes, but I've recently found that this is greatly frowned upon by libraries (though my particular library doesn't have anything against it on its website) because it can cause damage to the books over time, even if it is put on and removed immediately.

However, I'm not sure if in my particular case I'm just overthinking it. I only ever put the tabs in the margins, and never over text (most of the damning references I've seen have been referring to sticky notes over the text). Is this any more damaging than the normal wear and tear you get by just reading the book? I'm also someone who frequently carries library books around in my bag, so I'm sure they're getting banged up a little bit there (though I've never had anything torn or bent), so I'm not sure if this is a case where I'm being overly paranoid about the wrong thing. Is the amount of damage minuscule enough that I shouldn't be worrying about it because worse things happen to library books every day, or should I really try to avoid this?

If I should, what's a better way of annotating books I don't own? Some ideas I've seen that don't quite fit my needs:

- Index card as a bookmark, writing down important stuff as you go. That's what I'm doing with the book I'm reading right now, but I'm dreading going through and writing up the notes on my computer. I don't want to sit there and copy out whole paragraphs by hand, so I'll make a few word referencing a paragraph and then its page number, but I know it's going to be tedious to flip through and find the exact page number and paragraph I was referring to, when a sticky tab would show me exactly where I needed to be.
- A journal presents the same problem.
- Book darts. I really like these, but my main problem is I can't make any sort of notations with them. I really need a few words to remind me what my thought was, or what detail in specific is important.
- Evernote/some other phone capture system. I used this before for my commonplace book and hated it. It was awkward to keep pulling my phone out, and then cropping to the specific line I wanted, and then referring to it later and realizing I needed more context but didn't know the page number. Also, I do a lot of reading before bed, and don't want to be looking at my phone screen then.

Is there any product like bookdarts but perhaps made of cardboard/cardstock with room for writing notes? Or any other product I'm missing? Or a system in general that allows one to quickly mark and then later easily refer to specific lines or paragraphs in a book?

Or am I just being overly paranoid and sticky tabs are not actually the spawn of Satan?
posted by brook horse to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as a public librarian, I think you're just being overly paranoid and sticky tabs are not actually the spawn of Satan. But thank you for being so considerate!

I for one am happy to see books circulating. Sounds like you're being careful, and that's what's important.
posted by lyssabee at 12:16 PM on July 31 [13 favorites]

I wouldn't think a single thing of using sticky tabs in the margins that are later removed. It's gotta be far less damaging than dog-earing pages, for example. And I always find a way to crumple the page by accident when I try to use book darts. I think what you're doing is 100% fine.
posted by anderjen at 12:33 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I'd go with the more flexible kinds of sticky flags/arrows. The stiffer tabs seem to have stronger adhesive and and are more likely to take a bit of paper or ink off when you remove them (they're great for reference books that you own and use often, but not so great for library books.)

It may not be as much of a problem if you're not keeping them on for long periods of time, but I've had (very slight) damage sometimes when removing the tabs, and never any damage when removing the flags.

If you write what you'd like to see on the flag first, you don't risk inking the book inadvertently. Try very fine-point permanent markers to fit text on them without smearing.
posted by asperity at 12:37 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

Library books see a lot worse than sticky tabs. If you're being otherwise respectful, you should use the system that works for you. Post-its are a little larger if you need more room for notes. I have been actively charmed by the notes left in some of the books I've checked in over the years. There is just an inevitable amount of wear and tear that comes with circulation, and (sane) librarians understand this.

Alternately - are you against e-books? Because most libraries have a good selection, and if you make notes in the Kindle app and the book is checked back it, your notes are saved for the next time you check it out or purchase it. If these don't work for the same reason that you don't want to use your phone, then disregard.

Also, per the books-in-backpack thing, you can either buy a secondary bag to go inside your backpack and keep your library books cushy - like a laptop case, but for books! Or wrap them in a piece of cloth, in a way similiar to furoshiki though of course there's no need to be so fancy.
posted by theweasel at 12:37 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]

I've recently found that this is greatly frowned upon by libraries

I'm curious where you found this? I'm a librarian and we don't really have any edict against post-its, particularly for non-rare, non-fragile stuff. Libraries are for use and books are for use and you should feel free to return the book in about the same shape as you found it so if your post-itting or your book bagging are getting the book banged up, stop that. Otherwise, feel free.
posted by jessamyn at 12:42 PM on July 31 [5 favorites]

Another approach is to find out if your library circulates eBooks. There's generally a bit of a hassle/learning curve with setup, but it should allow you to take/save notes, screenshots, etc

Oh sorry -- I just saw you don't want to be looking at screens before bed.
posted by mrmurbles at 12:52 PM on July 31

Ooh, I think what I'm using is actually flags, not tabs. They're like regular sticky notes, but little rectangles? Not the ones you stick to binders and stuff to mark sections, no way would I use those--way too strong adhesive. And I write on the sticky note/flag/tab/whatever it's called pad before sticking it in the book, so there's no chance of writing in the book. I do have a Kindle Paperwhite, and use that for ebooks, but lots of the books I check out aren't available as ebooks.

Like always, I came across the idea on the internet: here is where saw it and started digging, and here is a library site that advises against it, and I read a couple other articles and anecdotes about people being admonished by their librarians for leaving sticky notes on their books. But it sounds like the issue may be overblown (or at least may not be applicable to how I'm using them), which is why I wanted to check! Thank you for all of your input, hearing from actual librarians especially helps reassure me (I was considering going to my library to ask about this, but haven't had the chance). The library pretty much saved my life as a child, so I really try and be as careful and respectful as I can. I just don't want to do anything that'll make like harder for librarians or make it so other people can't enjoy these books in the future.
posted by brook horse at 1:19 PM on July 31

If you have a smartphone, an app like TextGrabber might be useful.

Another possibility is Evernote, which has fairly decent text recognition within images, but although it's possible to search for text within images, I don't know if it can extract the full text like TextGrabber can.
posted by Lexica at 1:49 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

You are me! I also read a great deal, mostly borrowed, and usually only buy books I already read and know I want to keep around.

I use tape flags to mark passages of interest in library books, and strip them out before I return them (though if I'm flagging a whole lot in a book, that's a sign I might want to own it.)

In grad school for English lit, I didn't want to waste money and paper copying journal articles and the like, so I did a lot of reading at the library. To take notes on things in the moment that I wasn't going to take home at all, I used letter-sized pads of paper, and wrote the full citation at the top of the first page. Then as I read, I'd write a page number at the left side of the page and then whatever comment I had about it, or a paraphrase or quote. This requires, for me at least, that I'm sitting at a table to work--I would put the book in a book stand, so I didn't have to fiddle with setting the book down or marking my place or anything, and it was quick then to jot things as I went. It also had the advantage of making me feel very scholarly.
posted by Orlop at 2:07 PM on July 31 [4 favorites]

For protecting books in your backpack, go to Etsy and search for "book sleeve."
posted by elphaba at 2:09 PM on July 31

Another public librarian here. I think a lot of it will depend on the books and the library. If the books are rare, old or fragile, don't sticky-note them. If they come from a university library, you probably want to treat them with a bit more care than if they come from a public library.

Public libraries usually have pretty high turnover of their collections. We expect books to get grubby and used and generally not remain in pristine condition. While it's great if you can return a book in the same condition in which you borrowed it, therefore extending its lifespan, I think most public librarians would be glad you are not actually writing in and/or highlighting the actual book. Public libraries also tend to collect for use rather than posterity, and rarely have the intention of hanging on to most books for a long time. We weed regularly, based on age as well as condition, so the book you are trying carefully to preserve by not sticky-noting could well end up on the book sale trolley in a year or two.

University or special libraries are a different scenario. They usually have collections that are built over time and do tend to keep things for longer, if not forever. That said, I'd've thought uni libraries would still expect their collections to be used so I'm a bit bemused by the University of Illinois link you included.

There is a bit of a push-pull thing amongst librarians between preservation and access, with a spectrum ranging from "this book is an artifact that must be kept in a pristine condition; do we actually have to let the great unwashed touch it?" to "books are there to be used, doesn't matter if you write in it or the baby chews on it, the important thing is that they're being used". Most of us probably fall somewhere between the two extremes.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:51 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

i take pictures of actual passages.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:04 PM on July 31

What about something like this? portable book scanner
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:17 PM on July 31

I read a couple other articles and anecdotes about people being admonished by their librarians for leaving sticky notes on their books

This is the only thing I hated about sticky notes in public library books. Absolute pain to have to stop what you're doing and clean out someone's notes. Use them (with caveats as noted above), but do, please, remove them before you return them.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:09 AM on August 1

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