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dirac

Bookless libraries of the future?

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A recent article from The New York Times entitled “College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age.”

"The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared," said Geneva Henry, executive director of the digital library initiative at Rice University in Houston, where anyone can access and augment course materials in a program called Connexions. "It's having a conversation rather than homing in on the book."

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/14/educatio...html?oref=login

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Works great until the first power failure. You can't read a dead computer by candlelight.

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Further commentary:

Library administrators have had to make hard choices as costs have risen, their missions have expanded, and their budgets have failed to keep pace. But I am not so sure that the techno-spa model should be adopted so uncritically. Who will profit most from the transformation now and in the future, as fees and updates for new technologies continue indefinitely? Is that transformation really about the demands of students? If so, should we conform to their expectations, or make an effort to reshape them against the grain of the culture?

Alas, at many institutions, there is no longer much room for books on our central campuses. But we do have room for coffee bars, sports facilities, and a collection of other expensive, space-consuming amenities.

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Works great until the first power failure.  You can't read a dead computer by candlelight.

That's what laptop batteries are for :wink:

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As some time Library representative for my Faculty at my university, there's an additional issue here which is to do with the increasing concentration of journal publication into a handful of global publishers. Not so much in the Humanities but in the sciences, a lot of knowledge is transferred via publication of articles in quarterly or biannual scholarly journals. These are specialist publications, for niche markets, but absolutely essential for the scholarly disciplines. So, guess what? The publishers who publish and distribute these can basically charge whatever they can force the market to bear. Some Physics journals' subscriptions for university libraries are in the thousands of dollars per annum. So shared and networked electronic publication is one response to spiralling costs. But print will survive - I know I always download the PDF and print it out to read on the bus!

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As some time Library representative for my Faculty at my university, there's an additional issue here which is to do with the increasing concentration of journal publication into a handful of global publishers. Not so much in the Humanities but in the sciences, a lot of knowledge is transferred via publication of  articles in quarterly or biannual scholarly journals. These are specialist publications, for niche markets, but absolutely essential for the scholarly disciplines. So, guess what? The publishers who publish and distribute these can basically charge whatever they can force the market to bear.

I used to work in a math research lab and indeed the subscription prices of some journals was quite outrageous (and there was no real link with the journal's quality, some rather obscure ones were awfully expensive while some very famous and respected ones were rather cheap- the main difference for the cost was whether it was a commercial publisher like Springer, Elsevier, etc. or an academic publisher like say, the American Mathematical Society, Cambrige University Press, etc.) and sometimes forces math libraries to stop some subscription because their budget isn't big enough. A math researcher of Berkeley University, Rob Kirby, had compiled some information about journal prices on his web site:

http://math.berkeley.edu/~kirby/journals.html

and asked mathematicians not to submit articles to high prices journals (but unfortunately,

very often people are not conscious of such cost problems).

What I find most shocking is that in fact academic institutions pay three times for the articles: once by paying the researchers who write it (for free), one by paying those who referee the articles (for free- and it can take a very long time when it's a long and complicated article), and once by paying the high priced journal subscriptions. And sometimes they pay even a fourth time, as in some fields (fortunately not in math), researchers have to pay to get their articles published. Also, when articles were submitted as manuscripts, there was more typing to do, but now most articles are submitted electronically with a given format and there's almost not editing to do. Also there are copyright issues with the availability of research articles, cf the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

http://www.soros.org/openaccess/index.shtml

Also some electronic journals have developed recently: they are freely accessible online for individuals, but libraries have to pay an electronic subscription or a print subscription (at a price far lower than that for many journals); so it's a good compromise (and I think that keeping a printed version is essential). See for example the following journal (one of its creators happen to be the PhD supervisor of my PhD supervisor, so something like my "grandfather" in math genealogy :blink: ):

http://www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/gt/

http://www.maths.warwick.ac.uk/gt/gtp-subscription.html

Sorry if it's a bit off-topic, but it's a sensitive issue for me (and after all, in a country like France where most research is done by state-funded institutions, all that is paid on taxpayer's money so everybody should be concerned...)

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I think it is important that libraries work to make their works available digitally, but I don't think there will ever be bookless libraries. This makes interlibrary loan instant and allows those without the funds to have books access.

But print will prevail. For novels, I take no comfort in reading a computer screen, but enjoy curling up to a book. And just for the sake of having books- libraries take pride in their "first edition" collections, I doubt those would just be tossed out, nor will branches be made to house the "we had the first download" collection.

But cheers to Rice for working to make this digital library available.

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Also, with a digital library, it doesn't matter if someone else has already checked out the book you want.

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dirac's link led me to to the NYTimes Archive, where each article is $3.95 ($1.60 each if you buy a 10-pack, but permission is for 30 days only).

I understand the economics from the newspaper's point of view, but I have pretty much stopped accessing electronically archived material as a result of policies like this.

One reason a researcher (or simple inquirer) reads this sort of article is because you DON'T know what it will contain. So much research in the social sciences and arts involves following false leads and dead ends. Or finding a nugget that leads you elsewhere. Or just blundering around for a while. Hard to do when the cash register keeps ringing and the unsable information and insights are slight.

Blessed are the libraries that still keep newspapers on file -- or arrange to supply microfiche or other formats.

And blessed are the computer sites (like Estelle's link to Warwick University) which provide abstracts of the article.

And then -- and this is my OWN quirk -- I still have to print everything out if it's more than a few pages, not having mastered the art of focusing on computer texts for more than a few minutes at a time.

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Thanks to all who pointed out the high cost of many specialist publications. All too true, and in such cases digitalization is a blessing. The point, however, isn’t that print will go away – after all, much of what many of us do on the Internet involves reading and typing. And for scholarly research, it can be a gift – making previously difficult to reach library materials available on an international scale. University presses are cutting back on monograph publications to counter the library cutbacks on purchases, and when they do publish often the author has to pay some of the costs, as Estelle notes.

And there are many advantages, including the future possibilities involved with hypertext and multimedia capabilities.

However, the author is correct, it seems to me, in pointing out that books should not be destroyed or put in storage to make room for, shall we say, less essential items. Skittl1321, you are quite right, but perhaps a little optimistic to assume that “of course libraries won’t destroy” valuable items. Guess again. Bart mentions the transfer of newspapers to microfiche, a project which, taken as a whole, was a disaster – papers were transferred poorly or incompletely in many cases. I don’t worry about that with the books, but there is a big difference between scanning a text online, or printing it out, and reading it sequentially between the covers.

Recently I was at the library doing some research and requested a Saturday Evening Post from the early sixties. At first the librarian wasn’t sure they would have the physical copy, but she looked, and came back with a triumphant gleam in her eye. We were both happy to have the real thing in our hands. And the reading experience was far more instructive, not to say pleasant.

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Dirac, you're absolutely right there about the dire consequences of throwing away the hard copy once things have been digitised. I could bore you all with many stories from my own experience of this, going to libraries and finding that things have become inaccessible! (Obviously, I spend far too much time in libraries! :P ) The British Library, for example, planned to chuck all their hard copy newspapers once they were microfilmed - I think that stopped because of the outcry. The worst, I think, was in a large public library in Australia, where they photographed the old card catalogue, and put the facsilmiles on a computer catalogue (no money to actually do a proper searchable data entry), and then put the old card-catalogue in storage, with an ongoing debate as to whether they should just chuck it. But some of the old, hand-written cards are unreadable in their fuzzy two or three-generation photograph, scanned into a computer programme. So much so that cards for books which I know I have had in my hand had disappeared - and thus, in many ways, the book "disappeared" - although I know it's in physical existence, I couldn't access it on my last visit there. And when I complained and did the whole academic "my research is important/do you know who I am?" (It has to be done in extreme emergencies :cool: ) the librarians really didn't seem to care - they were just old books that "no-one" read regularly ... But don't get me started on the intellectual poverty of much of Australia's public life, I'll only offend other members of this board ...

I do think, however, we need to flexible about some things - print and the book as we know them, are technologies just as computers, hypertext, the Web and so on. I heard literary hypertext guru George Landow speak last week at a conference at my university here in the UK. He had a very useful little mantra: with all transformations or changes in media, there are gains and there are losses. We need to be as clear as we can about both gains and losses. What would we do without the Web now? I can remember in the early 1990s using Unix text command e-mail programmes, and finding the first GUI web browser (Mosaic in black & white!) amazing and extraordinaty - but also irritating because I had to upgrade my computers (v expensive then) ...

This is a really important debate in which all readers should participate everywhere there's a library or an 'information resource.' It's just a pity it's an agenda usually run by cost :(

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dirac's link led me to to the NYTimes Archive, where each article is $3.95 ($1.60 each if you buy a 10-pack, but permission is for 30 days only).

Bart, this is why you still need your local library. There's a good chance they can give you access to full text archives through one of their online subscriptions. (I have to admit, I don't understand why the NY Times and other periodicals feel the need to charge for this sort of thing.) I'm with you about the importance of browsability. If you're searching for an article online, you'll pretty much get only articles conforming to the narrow scope of your search, and the serendipity factor is largely eliminated. Anyone who has ever done research can probably tell you stories about coming across a valuable article they didn't know existed while they were looking for something else. Paper is still the best way to make this happen. There's also a general education issue. If a student has an actual magazine in hand, after finishing one article he is more likely to read, or at least glance through, a neighboring article he didn't think he had any interest in. Even if he doesn't, without being aware of it he'll notice what's on the coveer, the table of contents, the advertisements, the names of the other authors--you know, the context, what else was in the air at that particular moment, who was writing, and about what--with the possibility that a new interest is sparked serendipitiously, or some tiny piece of information becomes lodged in his brain that helps fill out the constellation of associations in his mind.

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But print will survive - I know I always download the PDF and print it out to read on the bus!
And then -- and this is my OWN quirk -- I still have to print everything out if it's more than a few pages, not having mastered the art of focusing on computer texts for more than a few minutes at a time.

I do too - but this is a generational thing. I was pulled unwillingly into the computer age. However, my husband who is my age, but is a computer geek (insofar as a candidate for a ph.d. in history can be a computer geek) finds it easy to read academic articles on the screen. And I am sure that most people younger than me are quite comfortable reading articles on the computer itself.

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I'm not sure that it is generational. It is physically more difficult to read lengthy, complex material on the screen. (Although I don't doubt that this is harder for older eyes and bodies than younger ones.) Advances in technology may change this -- the problem is already being looked at-- but observers have noted changes in how people are reading. It's not so much reading as scanning.

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Advances in technology may change this -- the problem is already being looked at-- but observers have noted changes in how people are reading. It's not so much reading as scanning. 

This is interesting.

I find that I can read expository prose on a computer screen if I am VERY FAMILIAR with the academic discipline and language. I guess this familiarity (internalized prior experience) permits me to "scan" efficiently and accurately.

On the other hand, when the material concerns a topic that I'm not very famliar with, I find it extremely difficult to concentrate on screen. Perhaps that's because I have to pay equal attention to all parts of the text (lacking the background required to scan efficiently).

In this situation, print on paper works so much better for me -- allowing me to move back and forth more easily, and permitting the use of the world's greatest intellectual tool, the pencil (for underlines and marginal notes).

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Regarding the notion that libraries can be trusted to hold on to rare and valuable volumes. I was recently browsing online for a hard-to-locate book. It’s available – for about a hundred dollars. “Ex-library copy.” That bookseller probably picked it up for a few dollars, maybe less, at some library sell-off. I did some more looking, and found many similar items.

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Regarding the notion that libraries can be trusted to hold on to rare and valuable volumes.  I was recently browsing online for a hard-to-locate book.  It’s available – for about a hundred dollars.  “Ex-library copy.”  That bookseller probably picked it up for a few dollars, maybe less, at some library sell-off.  I did some more looking, and found many similar items.

Most of the out-of-print books that I've bought from Alibris.com are ex-library copies.

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I didn't mean to suggest that I'd never seen the term "Ex-library copy" before, only that I was struck to see it by a number of quite rare books.

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I love the euphemism "de-accessioning."

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Not every library can, or should, keep every old book they have. The great university libraries, Library of Congress, New York Public, etc., are charged with preserving rare books, and they try to coordinate amongst themselves to cover as many subject areas as possible. Most other libraries don't have the facilities or the money--or the demand--to keep everything. The great thing about the Internet is that the books that get sold off, rare or not, can now find their way so easily into the hands of the people who want them rather than simply getting tossed into the trash.

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That discussion reminded me of the most depressing library I ever entered: the library of my high school (where I studied, not the one I teach in now). Theft was alas a common problem, even for books which didn't exactly look easy to steal- for example a volume of the Encyclopedia Universalis was missing. Their literature collection was quite awfully empty, and one of the librarians even told me that at least, since they had so few interesting books, there would be a smaller chance for them to be stolen :flowers: I remember a friend who was quite depressed when realizing that the copy from "Henry V" that she had borrowed still had most of its pages uncut, and it had been printed around 1947. They had a grand total of two books about dance (that was the period when I started being interested in ballet), dating from something like 1956 and 1964 (that was in the early 1990s). And one day a friend and I found that they had a collection of books of Victor Hugo printed in 1882 (so it was before Hugo's death in 1885) and several other books dating from the mid and late 1800s (well, that's not so rare, but we were impressed), and they were all dusty on a forgotten shelf... I'm not blaming the librarians (I suspect it must have been a really un-rewarding job, and with a small budget) but really it was a depressing place (even the library of my junior high school was much better).

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