Physicians examine sick patients, rather than rely on another person's gut instinct.
Lawyers read original statutes, instead of depending on after-the-fact interpretations by other folks.
And inquiring minds can obtain a personal feel for the fabric of human thought and experience by personally studying the collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library at Kansas University.
"That is what libraries are all about, which often gets lost," said William Crowe, KU dean of libraries. "Libraries are about putting people in touch with information ... so they can seek their own way after truth."
Crowe, who plans to step down as dean to become the official Spencer librarian, said research libraries in other countries often limit access to scholars with professional standing. Spencer Library's collection of books, photographs and artifacts is open to the public.
"It's not sanitized," he said. "People have access to the real, original record. That supports democratic society."
He said access to materials at Spencer Library remains a right, not just a privilege.
"It's the people's library," he said. "Freedom depends on unfettered access to information. Every generation has to go look at it again. They'll see something new."
For example, he said, guests at Spencer Library can peer into the eyes of 17 members of the Kansas City Monarchs, a legendary Negro Leagues baseball team, photographed in 1953. Or they can flip through a first edition of James Joyce's "Ulysses" in French, signed by translator Stuart Gilbert and inscribed by Joyce. Or they can study papers of Charles Scott, a Topeka attorney who helped secure racial integration of public schools.
"It's an opportunity to commune with different people who thought differently," Crowe said.
The best attribute of a research library is that the material is never exhausted.
"We don't get used up or thrown out," he said. "When your great-grandchildren show up, it will be here."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.