How Should I Read a Book?

Can you determine what an academic book is about in five minutes? At a workshop this week we gave it our best, taking this quiz after “reading a book” for 5 minutes. Some say that seminary education is a three year course in learning how to read. We agree, in part, at the Pitts Theology Library, and during a Wednesday Workshop this week we took some time to focus on this essential task of reading. The stated agenda was to learn how to read, but much of the conversation was about learning how not to read. That is, we discussed strategies for consuming the argument of books quickly, without starting at page 1 and reading to the end. We learned how to read catalog records and shelf browse (even virtually), research an author’s other publications, find book reviews, and read from the outside in, studying the guideposts around the book (titles, tables of contents, indices) as a guide to the content within. We also discussed strategies of critical reading for content, including taking positions of “creative agreement” and “creative disagreement” so as to ensure our biases about the book, subject matter, or author don’t hinder us from critical engagement. In the end, we all took away strategies to help us read, though it might be more accurate to put “read” in quotation marks. Want to learn what we did? Check out the slides from the workshop here.

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How do I do research?


Did you know that the Pitts Wednesday Workshops count toward your First Year “Academic Experience” requirements?

Well, they do! There are 9 more Wednesday Workshops this semester, and the first 12 participants get a free Panera meal– so check out the possibilities here.

Our first workshop went down on Sept. 2, covering the basics of the research process. If you missed the workshop, but are staring down a semester full of research papers– fear not! Instead of looking at the project as a giant, untamed mess, break it down into four manageable steps. Each of these four steps has clearly defined goals and prepares you to produce an amazing research paper or project.


How do you even begin the research process? The first step is to understand the assignment! What are the topics discussed in the assignment description? More importantly, what is your professor asking you to do with those topics? Look for key words like “analyze,” “compare,” or “argue.”

Once you feel you have a handle on the assignment, you can formulate an initial research question—something that will guide and limit your project. A good formula for this question is the following: I am working on ___ [broad topic],  because I want to find out ___ [how/why/what], so that I can help others understand ____[ the so what?].

Try to make sure that your research question is at least initially feasible—the entirety of the book of Ruth may not work as a paper topic, but a chapter might!


With your research question in mind, then turn to collecting resources for your project. Always start with what you already have! This includes assigned readings, lecture notes and even your syllabus (which often has suggested bibliography). Talk to a reference librarian or search the Pitts Research Guides to see what is available on your topic.

Then, move on to general overviews of the subject—this would include dictionaries, encyclopedias, or sourcebooks. One good overview that’s available online is the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Most dictionaries and encyclopedias will include suggested bibliography at the end of each entry— then follow the bibliographic rabbit trail! A lot of work has been done on a lot of subjects. There is no need for you to reinvent the wheel—leverage all that good work to your own advantage.

For example, while checking out the texts suggested by the dictionary, read the footnotes/endnotes and the main bibliography, located at the end of the book! These are invaluable resources for further bibliography—here, you will find authors who have written many works on particular topics, good ideas for key words to search in databases, and a better vocabulary for writing about your topic. Remember, once you’ve found a book in the stacks (or online), look around you! Shelf reading digitally or physically can uncover many more useful resources.

Once you’ve gathered a critical mass of information, go back to your research question. Given what you know now about the topic, is your topic too narrow? Too broad?


All the information you have gathered will not be useful for your paper—some of it may not be authoritative, while other aspects may be beyond the scope of your paper. Looking back at the notes you took on all your resources, consider which elements will support your central argument. Eliminate those resources that are tangential, uninteresting, or simply not relevant to your own work. Remember, the space of your paper will provide limits on the resources you can include.


Finally, you must marshal all the information you have collected to support a central idea, or thesis—this is the answer to your research question! Outlining your paper, with its main points and supporting evidence, is a great way to ensure you only include pertinent information.

Remember, the Candler Writing Center offers individual appointments to workshop your papers. Take advantage of this great resource!

Using these four steps, the research process becomes a little bit more manageable. And, even better, the whole process is summed up in the graphic below (come by the reference desk for a physical bookmark)!

Research Process


You can also access the Powerpoint from the presentation here.


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Wednesday Workshops: Opportunities to Learn About Research

The Pitts Theology Library is an instructional library, and the librarians consider ourselves educators. One way we exhibit this mission is through the Wednesday Workshops, instructional sessions offered most weeks of the academic term on Wednesday from 12 to 12:50, starting September 2. These lunch sessions feature librarians teaching on research topics, ranging from issues of citation, presentation design, digital humanities, and many more. The first 12 registrations will receive a free Panera lunch, but everyone will receive valuable research instruction. A full list of topics offered this Fall, along with links to register, can be found at We look forward to learning with you on Wednesdays!

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Scavenger Extravaganza!


On Tuesday, many  intrepid new Candler students participated in a Pitts Theology Library tour and scavenger hunt. While exploring the many spaces and faces of the library, students also practiced a number of useful library skills. There is still time to join one of four tours on Friday afternoon: simply sign up using this link for tour registration, or just show up!

Many exciting opportunities await, including:

finding a reserve book

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navigating the reference section:

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learning how to use the scanners:

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exploring special collections:

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and stretching your creative muscles with book spine poetry!

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Welcome New Students!

Pitts Theology Library would like to extend a very warm welcome to all new Candler students! We look forward to seeing you at the library sessions during orientation and encourage you to sign up for one of the optional tours.

We hope you will also take a moment to come and explore the library beyond these scheduled meetings. During the bustle of the school year, the library offers quiet spaces for study and a welcoming community in support of your academic journey. Pitts staff members are here to assist you with checking out books, doing research, and navigating the library. Come visit the circulation desk or find a reference librarian if you have any questions, both now and throughout the year!

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Thursday Honors

Thursday afternoon has become a highly anticipated time of the week at Candler. From 2:00 to 3:00 pm each Thursday, the library holds the Thursday Honors event: a coffee and refreshment break for all library patrons. Funding for the event is provided each week by donors, who choose to honor individuals or groups from the community. Past honorees have included Candler staff members, student groups, and alumni. Honorees’ photos are featured on the welcome screen at the library entrance throughout the week.

The response to the event has been overwhelmingly positive, and the Pitts staff is excited about continuing to provide and develop this weekly opportunity for recognition, conversation, and refreshment. To sponsor a Thursday Honors event, please contact Rebekah Bedard at rebekah [dot] bedard [at] emory [dot] edu.


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Summer Exhibition: Windows on the World

Have you ever wanted to see autographed first editions of To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone with the Wind? Would you like to see Sherman’s map of Atlanta or Aaron Burr’s pocket watch? This summer, we invite you to view these items, and many other rare books, maps, photographs, and manuscripts, in the third floor exhibit gallery at Pitts Theology Library.

The exhibition is curated by members of the Atlanta Grolier Club, a club for collectors and bibliophiles. Through the exhibition, Atlanta Groliers honor the memory of David Parsons (1939 – 2014), an esteemed member of the Grolier Club and faithful volunteer at Pitts Theology Library.

“Windows on the World” runs until August 21 and is open during regular library hours. Come and see the exhibit at any time or sign up for a tour at the following link:

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Welcome Course of Study Students!

The Candler School of Theology and the Pitts Theology Library welcome students for Course of Study for the next three weeks. We look forward to having them use the library’s space and the library’s collections, and we encourage them to get to know their librarians! Course of Study students, you have 28-day borrowing privileges, which we hope you’ll take advantage of. If you have questions about lending, or about the library in general, please stop by the circulation desk or find a reference librarian. We’ll be offering tours of the library and its collections on Monday, July 13, at 4:15pm, and Wednesday, July 22, at noon. Welcome and enjoy Candler and Emory!

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Research Guides

Did you know that Pitts Theology Library creates guides to save you time and help you with your research? The most popular research guides include Biblical Greek and Theological Research for Beginners. You can search for guides on topics of interest by clicking on the Research Guides link on the left hand side of the Pitts homepage.

This year, there are five new guides to explore:

Check out these guides and let us know if there are other research guides that would be helpful as well!


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Independence Day Hours

Emory University, including Pitts Theology Library, will be closed on Friday, July 3 in observance of Independence Day. We will re-open with our regular summer hours (Monday-Friday, 7:30 AM to 5 PM) on Monday, July 6. We wish you a wonderful weekend!

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