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7 Free Books That Should Be On Your Shelves

7 Free Books That Should Be On Your Shelves

Bookshelf

    Who doesn’t like free stuff? And if we’re talking about stuff that will actually help you out in the long run, it’s hard to find a reason to turn it down. Free books, for example, are more than worth their price, especially if they are good reference materials. But sometimes it can be hard to find free books — it’s not necessarily something that’s advertised.

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    There are plenty of places to get free materials, though, if you know to ask. Brand new books, as well — not the free used books that you can find just about anywhere. This goes beyond the many websites that offer free ebooks of fictional work, though. The publications on this list are mostly reference materials. While they aren’t something you might consider for an afternoon of light reading, though, they can be very useful in planning your finances, doing home projects and other tasks that may require reference materials. Most of this information is available online, as well, but sometimes a hard copy can come in handy.

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    1. How to Really Start Your Own Business: SCORE offers this workbook, along with others, that provide an immense amount of information on how to plan your business. If you’re considering entrepreneurship — or have already started — consider requesting these books. The easiest way is to request them through your local SCORE chapter. You don’t need to be a member and you can find the contact information for each chapter on the SCORE website. Other available materials include booklets on specific business structures and other small business information. If you complete How to Really Start Your Own Business, including all the questions, you’ll essentially have a business plan ready to go.
    2. The Consumer Action Handbook: A new edition of this book is published yearly by the U.S. government. It offers practical advice for consumers, from buying a car to writing a will. The handbook contains an immense amount of information and isn’t exactly light reading, but it is an excellent reference guide. To order a copy, you’ll need to visit the order form on ConsumerAction.gov and provide a mailing address.
    3. Investing Basics: This is another government publication. It’s actually a set of several publications to help readers create financial plans and begin investing. If you’re hazy on the details of investing, this kit is a great starter set. And its price tag is much less than investing programs costing hundreds of dollars for essentially the same information. You can order Investing Basics online through the GSA’s order form.
    4. Easy Weekend Projects: Interested in do-it-yourself projects? Minwax, the makers of wood stain and various related products, offer a free guide to projects you can do yourself. It’s a little heavy on the wood-based projects, but there is plenty of useful information. You can order Easy Weekend Projects through Minwax’s online order form. They also offer up a variety of other publications, including Wood Beautiful Magazine and the Guide to Hardwood Floor Care.
    5. Genealogy Publications: If you’re interested in researching your family tree, the National Archives have made a whole list of publications, from booklets like Using Records in the National Archives for Genealogical Research to reference materials like Chinese Immigration and Chinese in the United States. A full list of the free publications available through the National Archives is available on their website. Unfortunately, you can’t place a request online — you’ll need to call the National Archives by telephone or through the mail.
    6. IRS Publications: The IRS will provide the majority of both their forms and their publications in print, as well as in PDF. To order copies of any of their publications, you will need the publication number. A few key publications are 334 (Tax Guide for Small Business), 505 (Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax), 5 (Your Appeal Rights and How to Prepare a Protest) and 910 (Guide to Free Tax Services). There are literally thousands of IRS publications, and as long as you know the number, you can order up to 10 publications to have mailed to you through the IRS’ online order form.
    7. Tourism materials: Every state, as well as quite a few countries, will mail you books, brochures and other publications about their location and the tourism opportunities. There’s no need to buy guidebooks or maps — just look up the local tourism board and request the materials. Many have online request forms, although a few will ask you to call to place a request. Some cities offer the same service. If you’re requesting books from overseas, be aware that you may be asked to pay shipping.

    Most of these organizations make their publications available as PDFs, as well. They also have an even wider selection of free publications available for download, as do hundreds of other websites. The FDA, for instance, makes many internal publications available as free downloads. While their Industry Guidance documents may not appeal to everyone, their consumer publications, which range from recommendations for dietary supplements to fact sheets on precautions to take when applying eye cosmetcis, can be excellent reference materials. And if you’re willing to pay for shipping, you can get many more free hard copies.

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    One thing to keep in mind about free publications, though, is that you may get what you pay for. While I personally trust the U.S. government’s recommendations about consumer protection, I’m a little more leary of Minwax’s recommendations of their own product over all others. That doesn’t make Minwax’s publications unrealible — they just should be taken with a grain of salt.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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