Problem: No Way Are You Going To Write Five Pages About That

I think most librarians have been in a situation where a student comes to the library, they need information for a report, but they’ve got such a huge scope of things they could write about so they’re having trouble narrowing down what they should write about. As an example, I had a student referred to me because I’m the science guy at my branch and they figured I might be able to help them narrow down their report on astronomy.

Yes, he wanted to do a report on astronomy… all of it apparently.

Well, that’s not going to fly, especially for a five page report. As you can imagine, the subject is just too big. There’s too much to talk about, write about, discuss, and detail. It’s impossible to do it in five pages. Heck, it’s be hard to write an entire book about astronomy.

Or is it?

Solution: Wikipedia Books

Wikipedia has a feature that a lot of people really aren’t aware of. After all, Wikipedia doesn’t really go out of it’s way to advertise stuff. Yet in cases like this, it can be an awesome tool.

See, what my patron needed was something to read through that was general enough to get him a grounding in just how big his subject was and then he could use that to whittle things down to a manageable subject. We all know that encyclopedia articles are pretty good for that kind of thing and, like everyone else on the Net, we know that Wikipedia is a pretty good encyclopedia.

But do we really want to print out a bunch of articles? Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a book? Something they could take home?

Turns out, you can.

Step 01: Head on over to Wikipedia.

Here’s a link to them if, for some reason, you don’t know it.

Step 02: Check out the left sidebar. You’re going to find a dropdown menu called “Print/export.”

This dropdown is usually collapsed, so people don’t always click to see what’s inside. Once you do that, you’re going to see a link there that says “Create a book.” Click it.


Step 03: Turn on the Book Creator.

What this will do is put a bar across the top of your Wikipedia pages with a link that allows you to add pages to your book. In other words, you’ll be able to stuff the article you’re looking at into your Wikipedia book. Now, let’s go search for Astronomy.


Okay, now let’s say we want this article in our book. Simply click “Add this page to your book” and it does. Okay, we’ve got a page added, let’s flip through this article. Oh hey, “Planetary science” sounds kind of cool. Let’s click the link.

Read through that. Sound interesting? Okay, let’s add that too. And keep going, adding pages to your book. When you think you’ve got enough, then click “Show book.”


Step 04: Download your book.

You can download the book as a PDF or as an OpenDocument text file. It’ll take some time for Wikipedia to format the book and get it ready for you.


I would expect that you’ll probably want a PDF file because what I’d recommend you doing with that PDF file is…

Step 05: Email the book to your patron so they can look at it at home or in the library.

Your patron now has a pretty decent collection of focused articles they can flip through, print out, highlight, mark on, and all those other things you probably don’t want them doing on your public computer monitors. The PDF contains all the images, image captions, tables, and even the bibliographies of the original article. The only thing you don’t get are the links.

I mean, the thing even comes with a table of contents.

You can even order a printed copy of your book. Keep that in mind next time someone complains that libraries no longer have encyclopedias in book form.