Friday, March 11, 2011

A true horror story for any scholar

This story is from Australia but I am confident it is happening in other advanced countries too: University libraries are throwing out old books wholesale. This is quite simply a danger to knowledge. Soon we are only going to be allowed to know what our "betters" allow us to know. Hang on to your books! I know that I have some old books which I am going to ask my son to keep after I am gone

THE University of NSW is throwing away thousands of books and scholarly journals as part of a policy that critics say is turning its library into a Starbucks.

Academics say complete journal collections, valuable books and newspapers dating to the 19th century are being thrown out to clear space for cafe-style lounges.

The Herald has obtained an internal document listing thousands of titles due to be pulled from shelves. The 138-page "weeding" list includes encyclopaedias, dictionaries, books in foreign languages and texts on psychology, politics and morality.

The policy, which until recently required librarians to remove 50,000 volumes each year, does not allow the last Australian copy of any book to be discarded. But it has opened an ideological row about the function of modern libraries as more research material becomes accessible online.

Already, thousands of books have been dumped in skips in the library basement and staff in various disciplines say they have not been given the opportunity to salvage them.

"This is a scandal. It's outrageous on a whole number of different levels," said Peter Slezak, an associate professor in the school of history and philosophy. "Anyone that has anything to do with books is distressed at this. They are extremely good books."

The cleanout has so upset some that library staff have rescued books destined for the bin. One former library assistant said he had taken more than 200 books. "If the book's not borrowed in the last couple of years, they throw it out," he said. "Most libraries see their function as an archive but these guys see it almost like a video store. After you've had the book five years, why keep it?"

Most shocking, he said, was the disposal of a collection of newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s. "They're getting rid of books to make space for students to sit around, have lunch and plug their laptops in. Bizarrely, they've turned the library into a kind of a Starbucks," Professor Slezak said.

A university spokeswoman said that since August library policy no longer set a target for the number of books to cull. Superseded textbooks were hard to give away, some titles were moved into storage and libraries worldwide faced the same dilemma, she said.

"The library has an ongoing program to remove print journals where online archival access is provided. Our academic community prefers to use the online versions and they use them very heavily," she said.

Dr John Golder, a visiting research fellow in theatre, feared the digitisation of libraries would prevent students stumbling across new information. "A serendipitous discovery is impossible when the book isn't there," he said.

A professor in the school of history and philosophy, David Miller, understood libraries could not preserve everything but thought consultation could be improved. "There's something profoundly wrong, and symbolically wrong, about a university destroying books," he said. "Universities are in the business of passing on knowledge and books - no matter how the use of books is shrinking - still remain a very important symbol of knowledge."


Some letters on the issue below

There were many distressing stories in the newspapers this morning, but none so immediately depressing as the story on what my university is doing to our books ("Books get the shove as university students prefer to do research online", March 8).

It is 50 years almost to the day that Ray Bradbury published his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, an allegory about book-burning and the suppression of ideas. He meant it as a warning and I don't suppose he really expected it to become fact. He would be galled and appalled to learn that it has.

That this is happening in a "place of learning" makes it doubly significant.

The UNSW library is such a depressing place these days - there are entire floors where it is hard to find a book at all. The explanations offered by UNSW that people don't want these books and that nothing for which there is no electronic copy is junked are nonsense.

I recently went searching for a 19th-century Government Gazette (for which there was no electronic version) only to be told by a distressed librarian that they had been found in a skip in the basement, along with many other irreplaceable items. At their own expense, the librarians rescued these and sent them to a library where they would be appreciated - Dili in East Timor.

What is happening to the UNSW library is just one aspect of a dumbing down of the university in the name of competition - to change it from a collegiate place of learning to (in the Vice-Chancellor's words) an "education destination".

You don't get a very good education at a university without books.

Dr Geoff Lambert Prince of Wales clinical school, University of NSW, Sydney

UNSW's book "cull" is extremely short-sighted. Research does not follow a straight line; it thrives on the kind of serendipitous discoveries that databases make impossible. When I was at university (in this century), the books I stumbled across in the library amounted to a second education. At the very least those of us who love books would have appreciated a chance to salvage what we could.

Alan Miller Hornsby [My experience was similar -- JR]

There are two aspects to UNSW's policies that if more widely adopted will have an effect on libraries and their patrons. Libraries have always operated within a spirit of co-operation and this manifests itself in the inter-library loan. This means that when a patron wishes to borrow a book not held in a library but held by another library the patron's library can borrow that book from a library which holds it.

A spoiler within this practice has arrived in the form of e-books which have licensing restrictions. The New York Times reported in March that a large US publisher owned by Rupert Murdoch will sell e-books to libraries that can be borrowed a maximum of 26 times for each title purchased. The library holding that e-book can no longer lend it out after 26 times. Does this mean the library will have to keep purchasing copies of the same title?

Many libraries also are transferring subscriptions from the hard copy of scholarly journals to online versions. The licensing of these online subscriptions restricts distribution of copies of articles within those scholarly journals to third parties, i.e. other libraries via inter-library loan. Furthermore, if a library discontinues a subscription of an online scholarly journal it no longer has any holdings of that journal.

When you purchase a printed copy of a book or scholarly journal it is yours to keep forever. Librarians need to think long and hard about the implications of discarding the hard copy.

Wendy Cousins Balgownie


DOE: 82% of public schools may “fail” this year

In testimony to Congress Wednesday, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a startling claim: This year, up to 82 percent of public schools could "fail" the government's "No Child Left Behind" standards. "No Child Left Behind is broken and we need to fix it now," he said, according to a transcript provided by the Department of Education.

"This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed," Duncan added. "We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk." Last year, just 32 percent of schools were failing the government's rigorous testing standards.

Duncan was speaking to the House Education and Work Force Committee.

The education policies, passed by the Bush administration in 2002, set a number of highly unrealistic deadlines and requirements, and tied school funding to achieving those goals.

Critics have argued the reforms changed schools from centers of learning to testing factories, increasingly irrelevant to students and communities. Increasingly, even Republicans have come to agree that the policies are largely broken.

"The Obama administration’s proposed blueprint for reforming No Child Left Behind recognizes and rewards high-poverty schools and districts that show improvement based on progress and growth," the Department of Education said, in an advisory.

"States and districts would have to identify and intervene in schools that persistently fail to close gaps. For schools making more modest gains, states and districts would have more flexibility to determine improvement and support options."

“Our proposal will offer schools and districts much more flexibility in addressing achievement gaps, but we will impose a much tighter definition of success,” Duncan said. “Simply stated, if schools boost overall proficiency but leave one subgroup behind — that is not good enough. They need a plan that ensures that every child is being served.”


Australia: Teachers still chasing the class-size snark

CLASS sizes would be reduced to just 20 students in Prep to Year 3 under a proposal put forward by teachers to help lift literacy and numeracy standards.

The Queensland Teachers Union has warned the Bligh Government it needs to commit to smaller class sizes if it is serious about lifting student outcomes.

But the proposal conflicts with a controversial paper last year which warned reducing class sizes does little to improve the quality of education for children.

The QTU has made the latest proposal to claw back class sizes in their paper Securing Queensland's Future: A Resourcing Agenda for State Schools. The paper, which outlines a 10-year resourcing plan for state schools, suggests Prep to Year 3 class size maximums be "progressively" reduced to 20 students over five years as one of a series of "suggested initiatives". Education Queensland (EQ) currently sets a maximum class size target of 25 pupils for Prep to Year 3 , although up to 30 have been reported in Prep classrooms since 2009.

Last year, more than 10,000 Prep to Year 3 students were taught in overcrowded state school classrooms. "If the Government is really serious about improving literacy and numeracy outcomes, it should commit to a program of class size reduction, particularly in Years P-3", the QTU paper states. "Qualified teachers working with smaller classes in the early years of schooling are an effective way to achieve better student outcomes."

It says intensive student support programs and ongoing teacher professional development would also be needed for the class size reductions to work.

The paper comes less than six months after a Grattan Institute report warning reducing class sizes did little to improve the quality of education. Grattan Institute school education program director Dr Ben Jensen argued money was better spent on improving teacher effectiveness.

But QTU president Steve Ryan said state schools which had reduced class sizes using National Partnership funding had shown the initiative worked.

EQ director-general Julie Grantham said the QTU which has submitted its paper to the Government, had not raised the issue in any of their stakeholder meetings. She said class sizes were structured to meet targets agreed to by the QTU.


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