Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

Summary: Stanford University is preparing to move to a bookless library. Is this digital progression, or old-school repression?

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Stanford University is making a leap in its future library programme by preparing the launch its own bookless library. Instead of checking out books, monitoring their progress and having to have them back by a certain time and day for another student, pretty much everything of theirs will be going digital.

As in this day and age, most articles are available through online library databases and via Google Books and Scholar. Many students including myself are aware of the huge impact that digitised books are having on research and studying.

You can search through them, for a start. This saves a lot of time.

Digital books means less concern with damage and acts of God (fire, flood, earthquake and the occasional meteorite), and less storage space is needed. This shift should be one of efficiency, widely available multi-user access and potentially cheaper costs overall.

But I do worry, as books should never be replaced in my opinion. Books as an option still, would be best. However I do see the upsides to both.

e-Readers are becoming all the rage, and the iPad certainly has spurred on this market with their cool, ergonomic device (...which actually doesn't suit students specifically all that well, but nevertheless) it has opened up 'reading on the go'. Perhaps now reading will be more accessible to students who can ad-hoc read as and when they want to.

Printing costs will go through the roof. There is no substitute for having a journal article in your hand and running over it with a highlighter and dashing on notes in the margin. You can do this on a computer, but the process of doing so doesn't install the knowledge into your head. Physically writing something down connects - somehow - to the head, and is remembered and absorbed by the brain when you write it.

Having a paperless university - or at least making steps to move towards a bookless library - is a huge, and potentially controversial step to make on the face of it. It does mean they can expand and share with so many more students and other universities, which should be the aim at the end of it; sharing knowledge with others.

How would you feel about a bookless library?

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20 comments
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  • 1984

    1984 looks like its arriving about 30 years late.
    wkulecz
    • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

      @wkulecz: I cannot get your point.
      Is this about "intellectual activity recording"? You have already to ask for the book and check it out in a normal library.
      Is this about the notes you are taking in digital format? You can still take your notes on paper.
      raul62
  • Bookless library should be an adjunct, not the primary

    As you say, e-books do not replace the eye-hand coordinated learning that a physical book, highlighter, and notebook bring to the learning equation. I have done dozens of research projects, with 3, 4, 8 or more library and text books spread all over a table to do side by side by side comparisons with. This is NOT a possibility with today's e-books.
    Dr_Zinj
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    Zack,

    Not to debate your article, but just a couple of adjunct thoughts.

    1. E-Readers - with monochromatic e-ink, they currently can't replace full-color textbooks. The iPad and other iterations of e-readers might solve that problem.

    2. What if e-readers included e-margins and either touch-screen or keyboard means of adding personal notes to the text?
    RayG314
    • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

      @RayG314 That might work. I get what you mean; it's like when you read something, often you don't take it in. Yet if you have a discussion with someone about what you're reading, it seems to be remembered. That's how I revise anyway. Though you make a totally valid point and that would make it far easier to share notes too.
      zwhittaker
      • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

        @zwhittaker Hmm. Sure you don' t want to revise your stance on purchasing an iPad? (Grin)

        You might be too young to know this but it's a well known "urban fact" that California and/or the west coast initiate trends that are 2 to 3 years ahead of mainstream adoption.

        My crystal ball gazing still looks pretty good regarding tablet based university level text books being adopted within five years. Your iPad class device WILL become a university student's primary "text book" far sooner than later. (Knowing your abhorrence towards Apple's device, I'll let you and your friends use a Google future tablet for class studies. And, I truly hope a MS light weight tablet design becomes a reality sooner than later.)

        PS. Books will NEVER vanish. Just the other day, I walked into my local library with my iPad. I showed the librarian a book's cover image from my iBook app and asked if the library had that particular book. (Hey, why buy the book if you can access a library's copy.). As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and the librarian told me which ailse that book could be located at. It took only seconds to search out the book after consulting her computer terminal. The iPad image helped this process along nicely. Of course, I could have conducted this search alone but I enjoy the human interaction.
        kenosha77a
  • Bookless library great for sharing limits serendipity

    As an undergraduate I worked in a lab which gave me great freedom. I learned a lot and was encouraged to go to the library and get articles to read about our work. In the process of finding an article wandering the stacks I would often come across other articles of interest. This level of serendipity which is shared among other scientist, would be lost in a totally electronic library. On the flip side I fully support the digitization of library materials for ease of use, sharing and wider readership. I have spent some time working in the EU and can say that universities there would greatly benefit from more books being online.
    fnelson
    • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

      My wife reads the online article with a window open to google search and cuts and pastes words and phrases. It would be easy to add that internally to the ebook app. Then the serendipitous aspect would actually be improved!
      rjt@...
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    I've been paperless since 1994, everything on my laptop and always favour digital book over a paper one; I just like to carry one Book, my laptop..
    jabisaleh@...
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    To me its not about progression or repression, it looks more like an interesting project. Its great to get books to be digital if your just looking up something quickly, but I find having a paper book much easier to read if your going to read chapters.
    Loverock Davidson
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    I don't quite get the 1984 reference, since various agencies already routinely track what people are reading, but I do detect some elements of Fahrenheit 451 possibly entering the picture.

    On the other hand, having books and other media readily at hand and searchable is a wonderful thing. Don't get me wrong - I love the smell and texture of books. The old bindings and aging paper gives you a sense of the history of what you are reading. However, for research, being able to quickly find what you are looking for and cross-referencing between documents has never been easier, even with texts located around the world. And although nothing is more durable than pencil on paper properly stored, digital documents are much easier to back up and distribute. They also have a convenience factor of being able to print out the selections you need so that you can highlight portions and scrible notes in the margins, just like we used to do with photocopies, only now you can also copy/paste selections into your report so that inaccuracies from mis-typing of quotations are reduced. I see digital and traditional books both having a place in the future. Digital is convenient, but transitory in the grand scheme of things as technologies and file types come and go, and print is necessary to provide longevity, so that when things get lost over time, we can still go back and rescan.
    Pcramp
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    A virtual reality book, seems would cover the gap a bit.
    Roadrunner.jones
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    But won't they still have to have a "check-out" policy so that only the number of works that they purchased can be loaned to students at any one time?
    aep528
  • Partially progressive

    For some things it works better to have a digital version; things like technical journals and periodicals. On the other hand, a physical book is more than just the words; some give a better sense of history by its apparent age.

    I used to be a frequent visitor to the library during my school years and wandering around the stacks sometimes led to new things for me. One of those interesting items was an article called "Amplification of Sound by Flame". I would not have found this if all the books were digitized.

    The advantage to digital media is that it is better protected from loss and easier to distribute. The disadvantage is the experience is sterile.
    sboverie
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    @Zack: I love books, specially in their more traditional (and less ecological) form. I'm not a kid anymore (Yes, I'm almost 48).
    I understand what you mean when saying: "There is no substitute for having a journal article in your hand and running over it with a highlighter and dashing on notes in the margin. You can do this on a computer, but the process of doing so doesn?t install the knowledge into your head. Physically writing something down connects - somehow - to the head, and is remembered and absorbed by the brain when you write it."
    I don't get your point, anyway:
    - A book from a library is not the best element to support notes for your research. You take notes in your own block.
    - A digital book doesn't change this. You can always take your notes on your block...
    - Beyond manual taken notes, I think new generations create new ways to learn, according to the new sources available. A proven path is not bad. But, an unproven path is completelly wrong because it doesn't follow or map the old one?
    - A strange example: It's proven in people younger than 25 are developing the muscles in their thumbs in a new and characteristic way, because of typing SMS in their phones. Is that so bad?
    Cheers, Ra?l
    raul62
    • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

      @raul62 I love books too. It's the smell - I reckon. Those proper old books you get; they just have the most wonderful smell. I'm sure it seems weird, but I just don't care :)
      zwhittaker
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    I agree with your assessment Zack about the need to write something by hand for it to sink in. But if you have a tablet computer that supports handwritting recognition doesn't that serve the same purpose with the same result?
    alamfour
    • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

      @alamfour I've used my iPad and optional third party stylus to take a few notes already but in this case consider that the subject matter is already in a digital format. It would be easier to just "copy and paste" your section of interest and then use a keyboard (virtual or real) to record any useful notes. Or, you could go into a secured reading room and just voice dictate your notes. On the iPad, there is an app called dragon dictation that works with the iPad's built-in microphone. And converts spoken words into text. It works amazingly well.

      Future tech is "here". Just ride the wave, dude, and enjoy the ride. (As it might be stated by a Stanford Cardinal)
      kenosha77a
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    This article should have mentioned that the library in question is one of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering. As it is, it gives the reader the impression that this is a revolution affecting Stanford's libraries in general, which is definitely not the case (yet).

    These (scientific, technological) books and periodicals are not "used" the same way as books of art, literature, music scores; the former, as Pcramp writes, to "quickly find and reference", the latter to read, leaf, examine, etc. They sometimes hold high resolution reproductions of art work (the current digital libraries scan those at a lower resolution). Some have a format which makes it impossible to peruse electronically, e.g., orchestral scores: one's field of vision is much larger than what a computer screen provides.

    So while digitization might help finding specific textual contents in such books, it won't help (yet) find other kind of contents (images, scores), and will not be the best to peruse special formats.
    LeMiklos
  • RE: Stanford Uni's bookless library: Progression or repression?

    Folks, settle down. This is NOT a "bookless" library. Contrary to the idiot reporter at the Mercury News (a horribly-edited rag) who cannot understand basic English, there is no plan for the Terman Engineering Library to be "bookless". They are not removing all the print books. They are moving much of the collection to a temperature and environmentally-controlled location where students can still request them from. They are greatly expanding their online content--something the students at Stanford have been asking for since Sergey and Larry were hanging out bored and looking to fix the library search engine. <br><br>Second, please think about the fact that each and every one of us is discussing this online. Not in your local newspaper letter section, but in the comments of a poorly researched blog.
    ruggerducky