New City, New York: Same Old Debate

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After living, debating, and coaching in Texas for the last 10 years I decided to make the move to New York City to join Edgemont High School. It was incredibly hard to say good bye to my friends, co-workers, even my students from Highland Park and Grapevine. And even though I had been to The City before, it was hard to imagine what everyday life would be like as a resident. Through the whole process, debate kept me grounded. Despite the fact that the resolution is always changing, not much has changed in the form of debate itself, and the process of approaching the topic.

I officially started my research for the high school topic this week. It immediately made me feel like I was in high school again, debating for Buchholz, and using the University of Florida libraries. My first stop was Columbia University and their business library. In my experience the last few years as a coach I've noticed that high school debaters, and even some college debaters, only go to university libraries during camp. After camp is over they go home and almost exclusively reply on internet research. Even in the college community google books are replacing text books. The theory is that you can get an electronic version of the text from google and easily convert it into word documents. But the practice is that a lot of books aren't on google, the books that are may only have a limited preview, and google books supplant not supplement library research. (We miss you bill shanahan) The same is true of journals. Some journals are not included in major research engines like Proquest, Project Muse, Ebsco, or what was once debate's favorite, Lexis-Nexis. Some schools do not get access to every journal that is available electronically.

So I started my research at Columbia's library. A lot people don't realize how easy it is to access these resources. I'm not a student at Columbia, and although they require a student id to enter and use the facilities, within 10 minutes I had a five day pass to use any of their libraries. Luckily, I had already used their online library catalog CLIO to find the call numbers for the books I wanted. This saved me a bunch of time since there isn't one central library at the campus. Each library is subject oriented, located in the department building it's most closely related to. This is another trick that my students hadn't learned. When they actually did do library research, they would just show up and do their searches there. This is often a recipe for disaster since some of the books you're looking for are already checked out. This turned out to be the case for at least one of the books I was looking for. But I already knew that before I got there and had found another library in The City that had the books I was looking for.

My second stop was the New York Public Library. Without a doubt this was both the most overwhelming library and the nicest library I'd ever been to. Three floors of books housed inside of rooms named after people, not content, made it difficult to know where to go. But the helpful people at the information desk explained exactly what to do. Fill out a request, turn it in, go get a library card, and then wait for your books to be delivered to you. That's right, at the New York Public Library, you don't have to wander the stacks looking for a book. Instead, you turn in a sheet with the title, author, date, and call number, and the librarians find the book and deliver it to you. The books that I wanted were available since they can't be checked out and taken home. And after a second day of research, they even saved me another trip back to Columbia because they had many of the books that I didn't have time to copy my first day. Copying was a little more expensive at the public library compared to Columbia, 15 cents versus 10 cents a page, but it was well worth it. I even did a subject search while I was there and found some incredible books that didn't show up in my subject search through CLIO. I couldn't believe how easy it was to get a library card. I mistakenly filled out the wrong address, and had to use a Texas State ID, but was still able to get a library card, and can change my address online.

Another stop I made on the research tour was Revolution Books. I learned about this bookstore through Democracy Now, the best news hour in the world. Democracy Now had Cornell West and Carl Dix on a few weeks ago, the day after they had a discussion at Revolution. The staff was friendly, and although they didn't have the book I was looking for, I was able to order the book that was stolen from me at camp this summer. (Damn kritik lab, I'll find out who you are!) I was able to pick up a really interesting polemic against Alain Badiou there. The authors presented the book and held Q&A at Revolution last Tuesday. Unfortunately, that was the day that I moved into my new apartment in Manhattan, but it was nice to know that type of resource exists. Many people only remember the spectatorship argument from Gordon Mitchell, and not his call to contact your sources and have a dialog with them.

Despite moving into the city that never sleeps, which totally makes sense now because who has time to do that here?!!, debate is keeping me sane. I'm doing the same things I've done for the last ten years, but in nicer facilities and around a whole lot more people. There are more people with expertise, or non-profits on the ground, in the area I'm researching than I know what to do with. It can be overwhelming at first, but debaters should take advantage of these resources and not just carry out electronic research.

Julian Gagnon

Hey, will you have to face stuyvesant hs? If you do, prepare yourself for the challenge.

i'm sure that those debates will inevitably happen. and hopefully it will be challenging. i'm new to the area so it's hard for me to gauge exactly how competitive we'll be along with other schools. but i have a feeling edgemont will keep its crown of new york state champions!!


T's picture

You need to try The Strand. Just moved from New York, and I have to say is is the best bookstore I have ever been to. It has 18 miles of books (I think that's their slogan) and it absolutely amazing. Most are used, at a discounted price, or are unedited proofs of bestsellers for a dollar. You are sure to get any research book you need there. The nice thing is you can build up a great collection of research without breaking the bank. They also have a great philosophy section and will order anything you need. It's located in Union Square.

it definitely has a better selection then revolution. can't wait to check it out! although, even if they're cheap i'll still spend too much money there. if i don't post again in the next few days someone should go there and look for me.

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