Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'll Believe It When I See It....

Busy, busy spring, so my posting has definitely tapered off. However, a post by Chris Harris on the AASL Blog raises again that old spectre: Are books obsolete?

Here we go again.

Apparently, the Dean of Purdue/Indiana University library nonchalantly stated that there will be no books left in his library within three years, thanks to databases and the University's digitization program. So Chris posits the end of books for research purposes (we'll still use them for pleasure reading, Kindle to the contrary), and that we better start training our high school students to cope.

Do you sense me rolling my eyes here?

I admire Chris greatly, read his SLJ blog regularly, but he's jumping the gun here. While Purdue's library may well divest itself of physical books (see my title) within three years, I doubt most universities--and almost no secondary schools--are even near that point. The high cost of digitizing books is prohibitive, in and of itself.

Nor is Google Books the cure-all, unless there are major changes in copyright laws. Try accessing any book to which your school hasn't purchased rights, and you'll get only part of the book, and usually not the part you need. Many books aren't even searchable.

This also fails to take into account user preferences. Students are supposed to be digital natives, but the first thing my students want to do when they find something online is print it out. Ever try doing that with a Google Book? I'd be interested to hear the uproar from campus faculty this might have caused. The Dean of the library may be ready to go virtual, but are his faculty and students?

We ran a trial of Questia --a wonderful digital library--last year as a way to augment our book collection; the kids hated it. They found it difficult to search the books, couldn't print out more than a single page and generally told me "don't waste your money; we won't use it."

While I'm fairly sure we're all going to be reading everything in the cloud some day,we could quote Twain here: "The rumos of my [imminent] death have been greatly exaggerated."

Thus, until such time as the resource world is far more digitally friendly than it is, I will continue to teach students to use a wide variety of material, whatever may happen at Purdue!

1 comment:

  1. Jeri,

    Make no mistake, it is coming according to all the academic libraries that were at the talk from the Rochester NY area. They are already moving in these directions. I know secondary schools aren't yet, but what are we doing to prepare our students to be college students in a digital library?