Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Modest Proposal...

... from a commentator in today's Chronicle of Higher Education, advocating the elimination of ALL books from university campuses.

The main problem with articles like this is that some administrator, with the goal of being efficient, forward-thinking, and cost-saving, will actually believe this dreck. The author of the piece has a long career in teaching at multiple levels in academe, and has written some completely respectable and interesting books (though I just noticed that my library doesn't own any of them).  But he's gone off the rails here, in a number of ways.

1. Prensky willfully ignores the published research that indicates that e-text (at least in the non-fiction realm) is still typically read in short bursts in electronic form, and that most folks, when queried about electronic reading habits, indicate that their threshold for reading e-text seems to be about 7-12 pages at a time;
2.  Prensky also seems to assume that copyright no longer exists, and that every book which is currently available in print form can be digitized easily and at no expense, with no concern for the intellectual property rights of their authors. I wonder if that includes him - I am somehow doubtful...;
3. There is a growing movement to move into e-textbooks, a move that I applaud and welcome, as the e-textbook seems to combine the advantages of digital format and the so-far proven limitations of digital reading habits. While most students (many students?) may read their textbook from cover to cover in a semester, they rarely do so in chunks of more than a chapter at a time unless directed to do so, and even then not in one sitting. But Prensky presents no evidence whatsoever that students will treat other works in this way - such as, you know, the kind of books that libraries purchase as resource material to supplement class readings and as sources for papers, etc.;
4) Part of Prensky's fame comes from his famous classifications of "digital natives" and "digital immigrants", with those of us born before the advent of ubiquitous internet access falling into the latter category. They are interesting concepts, and useful in a way in looking at some of the expectations of those groups where online resources are involved. However, Prensky, and many others like him, consistently overstate the actual capabilities of "digital natives" in working in the online world. For example, most of this group are very conversant with technology, from ubiquitous cell phones to music players to computer access. Most if not all can type words in on Google, and claim that they are "proficient searchers". But Google is designed to provide you with as many returns as it can, with no regard to the actual value of hose items to what you are trying to find. And from my experience, those "digital natives" have very little in the way of skills to assess the value, validity, or relevance of that information to what they are trying to find. In the terminology of my profession, they are not "information literate".

Yet I have little doubt that well-meaning folks will parrot the nonsense that this brand of "educational leader" spouts, without thinking of the practical consequences of their actions. I suppose they will get their 15 minutes of fame, and be hailed as "bold", "innovative", and "visionary". But for what it's worth, there was a campus of the University of California system (Monterey) that opened a decade or more ago without a library. Within 2 years, due to pressure exerted by the faculty AND the students, they began buying books in droves to satisfy the demand for them.

We may get there one day. I'm pretty sure we will - but we aren't there yet, nor will be in the next decade.

No song of the day - too many good titles, but the lyrics don't fit right. I hate when that happens...

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