« Previous | Main | Next »

The Scenic Route to Knowledge

Post categories:

BBC LE Teacher Blogger | 12:36 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

From Kieran


My favourite place to escape from our current cold, miserable weather has been the reference section of my local library. There I can sit back in a (fairly!) comfortable chair and flick through the newspapers and magazines.

At this point many of you will be waving your IPads in the air. What about the Internet? Isn't this the 'information super-highway' where everything you want to know is a click away?

But even those of us who spend an unhealthy number of hours staring at a screen would concede that it can be a joyless experience. It's also a recipe for sore eyes and a tired brain.

Using a library reference section is like taking the slow scenic route to knowledge. And if you spot an interesting fact or unfamiliar word you are in the perfect place to do more research.

The other day I was indulging in this pleasant pastime when I came across a news story about the incredible growth in the number of English words. Apparently the number has doubled over the last century, with 8,500 new ones entering the language every year.
Where are we going to put them all? I asked myself, looking at the 20 volume, 650,000 word complete Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on the shelf behind me. Even the comically misnamed Shorter OED is two very fat volumes.

I noticed that the foreign language dictionaries in the next aisle looked a lot slimmer. I picked up the German one - it had only180,000 words. The standard French dictionary had less than 150,000.

While I was thinking about this I could see the snow falling outside. It would soon be time to go out and do battle with the icy streets. But the complete OED costs £675 and it seemed a shame not to make use of it. I reached out for Volume U-V and settled back in my chair.

I suspect the library reference section as a kind of intellectual leisure centre may be a very British pastime. Does this happen in the part of the world you live in? I'd love to read about your library experiences.

Scenic Route - using slower roads through pretty countryside. Used here as a metaphor.
Spot - notice
Flick - move pages/photos quickly, usually using thumbs
Indulging - doing purely for pleasure
Pastime - hobby, pleasurable activity
(a) Shame not to - a missed opportunity


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi there,

    I am not sure, but I suppose that these days people rather go on-line to find the kind of information availible in the library referense section than go to a library. Just because it is a way faster to find something on-line than in an encyclopedia or in any different kind of a book. However, I can not help saying that there is something special about libraries. Each library has an unique atmosphere that makes this place special. For me a library is a place where nobody can find me, just because nobody can't even think of idea that I can be there.
    Talking about what would be an intellectual leisure centre for me, I would give my preference to the Internet.

    Best wishes,

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Kieran! Great to hear from you again! The Italian language is very living and all the new words are mainly imported from English and used by young people or people who want to sound posh. About the library thing, I actually do not find mental concentration inside a library. I usually lock myself in my room. I shut every household appliance down so there is no distraction. Now that I am no longer a student, I keep using this method when I have to fill in some important papers for some errands or work out some sums. Best to you and yours, Filippo

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Kieran, I was happy to read that there is more to life than “information super-highway”, I refer to your slow scenic route to knowledge. My best wished from Oulu Finland through Internet :)

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Kieran;

    When i was a student ,I have been in library several times.My aim was in there, studied with my friends , shared our ideas and helped each others.
    Nowadays i never have been in library ,i prefer internet than going to library.Actually it doesn't give the same feeling using computer than flicking a books.When i go to a bookstore ,i understand how i much miss touching a paper.

    Best wishes

  • Comment number 5.

    Hello teacher Kieran,

    Your post really took me to the journey to library. I love reading books but the irony is, I don't have access to library or better say I don't have any library near by the place I live. It relaxes me when I have a book in my hand and I am sitting in my sofa and read a book but I like doing it when everyone in home is asleep and my cat is sitting next to me quietly.

    Will be looking forward to reading more from you.


  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Kieran,

    Thanks for your many helpful posts on the TeachingEnglish facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil.

    I thought that you and your readers would be interested in our new facebook app: What kind of teacher are you? which is a quiz inspired by the theory of multiple intelligences which suggests that different people learn and do things in very different way.

    Try the quiz out either in facebook https://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=154514724570539 or on our Teaching English website – https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/what-kind-teacher-are-you.

    As well as being a lot of fun it's also a really handy way to access some of the best class activities from the Teaching English website.

    Would be really interested to hear what you think of it.



  • Comment number 7.

    Good Morning from Columbia, South Carolina, USA.
    This is my very first comment on the BBC website. Normally I don't read blogs, because there are so many more interesting topics I want to read and study. Somehow your title strikes me and I read. That was so original and refreshing. Thank you.
    In Richland County where I live, there are a dozen public libraries. We can find great deal of books, magazines, audios, and videos. Several years ago, I found several Inspector Lynley (I'm sure you know the TV series.) DVDs and really enjoyed the show. It was quite an exciting experience.
    I wonder if you also can check out DVDs for free in your library.
    It was nice to know that there is somebody who does enjoy being at the library as I do.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Kieran,
    I completely understand your feelings, I love books too. Looking at a paper is better than looking at a screen for me. And it is also healthier. And, other thing, I must say that there are a lot of information which you cannot find on the Internet, just in books, especially in my branch. So, I am looking forward to my next visit of library.
    Have a nice day,
    Tereza (Czech republic)

  • Comment number 9.

    Hello Kieran,
    Slow scenic routes - I love them! And here I go again, taking the slow route to communication, pondering somebody's thoughts for a couple of days before sitting down to write a comment... Your post brought up memories of the time when I was a student at Vienna University and spent hours and hours at various big libraries. There was no internet in those days. I remember, every time I had to work out a paper I kept thinking, I have to come back to this library when I have finished this paper, then I'll be able to just enjoy and read around... Somehow it never happened, and now I live in a rural area with no immediate access to a public library - and I'm really grateful for the internet.

    It's impressive to read about the annual growth in the number of English words - I suppose a large portion may have to do with technological innovations. You ask yourself where you are going to put them all; well, I ask myself how I am going to remember them - although some of the new ones are probably used in my own and other languages as well. It's the other, non-electronic-media-related terms that give us foreigners headaches enough. You think you know a little English, but the moment you open a book or you start reading a newspaper, you realise you need that dictionary again... There's no end to studying new words and phrases. But of course, that's also the interesting thing about it: Enriching one's own vocabulary while at the same time watching a language developing, changing, being alive.

    All the best,
    Elisabeth (Austria, speaking one of the slim-dictionary languages)

  • Comment number 10.

    Hello, Kieran!
    My way to knowledge is still mostly through the Internet, but your slow scenic route to knowledge is a way to relaxing, good mood, brain and soul recovering from every-day routine and the screen of my laptop)))
    many new words come to Russian from English too, and many of them are connected with IT:)
    thank you for this post and new words;)
    Veronika from Belarus

  • Comment number 11.

    The Scenic Route to Knowledge
    very evocative, good posting, thank you

  • Comment number 12.

    Hello Kieran,
    I have really enjoyed your post, you realy went me there, I can say that you wright so vividly that you fire up my imagination, I thought I was there with you in the library. In Greece there are many libraries even to villagies but few go there even more, not only because of the internet but cause of TV also.
    I love English language cause it gives me the oportunity to communicate with people from all over the world and 650.000 it's a lot of words, Greek vocabulary also has a lot of words 10.000.000+ not to add new words that we adopt from other languages to express new terms especially in technology. The fact that Greek vocabulary has so many words help as to understand better languages with rich dictionaries as English because we can get the meaning of a word if it exist to our language too, imagine how difficult it may be for a foreigner to understand a word if does not exist in his native dictionary, that happens most of the time with words that express human values for example or feelings and how can anyone understand so abstract a word.

    A big fan of you

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi Kieran:

    Your post regarding library bring up me to my graduated student life.In that period ,I went library almost everyday ,sometimes for exam ,and I think it is queit place for reading as well.

    After left from university ,I got a job which is very busy at the early
    years.It is almost no time to read,say nothing of goingto library.

    One business trip in another city,not is my live now.Suddenly I feel boring about life,a best friend of me told me.There are so many intesing
    stuff in our life ,just like sports and reading.He played basketball and badminton with me,and lend some books to me.After that,I understand that
    job is not the only for life,and the real life is rich and colorful.So I
    become ease util now.

    Now ,book is a partner of me,wherever I go out ,one book will accompany with me.




BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.