Reading Library Books and Taking Notes

I’m a fan of the public library. For all the convenience of my Kindle, and paperbacks shipped in two days from Amazon, I still favor the public library. Growing up, I lived in a city with a great public library and it illuminated the benefits. Back then, I would spend half a day reading Redwall books in a cozy corner next to a giant window. I don’t have that same time now, but visit the library as often.

The biggest drawback of library books is that I have to return them. When I read 168 Hours the first time, I was requesting it a month later to look up a single section. After that I realized there should be a better system. Using pen, paper, and Evernote, here’s how I do it.

I keep a singular list of books to read

I still keep all of the books I would like to read on Amazon because that’s the most convenient place.  When it’s time for my next book, I’ll  scroll through this list and then log on to my library’s website. From there I’ll request the book.

In the last two years my library joined a consortium of Ohio libraries that loan their titles to each other’s patrons. Most of the books I read do not come from my home library, but instead some place else in Ohio. These books take 2-7 days to arrive depending on the courier schedules and availability.

I read it and take written notes

Taking notes from a book has always been a struggle because copying the text only gets me so far. It’s assimilating the new information that’s valuable.  I’ve found that in writing with pen and paper I remember it better. I also use different markers to show related ideas.

  • [c] The most common marker, it stands for connection. This is always followed by the title of something that is related to what I just read, and a brief thought about that thing.
  • [i] Stands for idea. This is like a connection, but to something I know or have experienced.
  • [b] A book referenced in the current book to look up later.

I type up the notes

As I read – very rarely do I wait until I finish – I open up Google Docs and begin typing up my notes. Usually it’s three days of reading and then a round of typing. Transferring the notes from a paper copy to a digital one lets me turn ideas over in my mind again. I will also write out the longer ideas and connections from my markers. The digital copy also makes it easier to search.

I copy the notes to Evernote

After finishing the book and notes, I select the entire digital document and copy it to Evernote. The notes could exist in Google Docs, but everything I write is there and I don’t like scrolling through it. The note enters Evernote, in my Commonplace Notebook, which includes all my notes on books, articles, and podcasts. I can easily scroll through these snippets when looking for something.

Evernote also has a reminder feature. After finishing the copy to Evernote, I’ll set a one-week reminder to look at the material again. This gives me a chance to bring the ideas back to the front of what I was thinking and make additional connections. After reading it over once or twice, for a day or two, I’ll set a new reminder for two months where I’ll do it again.  After these revisits I’ll only look at it again when I need to.

That’s how I convert what I read in a library book, to notes that I can use later on. Are you using Evernote or another system to keep track of what you read? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter, @MikeDariano.


2 thoughts on “Reading Library Books and Taking Notes

  1. Reading is such an investment. It’s silly not to do a bit more work and get an even better return on that investment by taking notes. I’ve only recently (last 3 years) started keeping a list of what I’ve read, and even more recently, started to keep notes. I’ve tried journaling them, notes in my iphone – do a lot of reading on iPhone, and am trying out Ryan Holiday’s system – which he evolved from Robert Greene. This system is a lot of work.

    I like your system a lot – it’s simple, and therefore, I’m apt to do it. I’m gonna try it with the next book I finish.

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