14 votes

The books of college libraries are turning into wallpaper

5 comments

  1. [3]
    dubteedub
    Link
    I thought this was an interesting read about how universities are seeing a large decrease over the last decade or so in students actually checking out books and using them. This bit stood out to...

    I thought this was an interesting read about how universities are seeing a large decrease over the last decade or so in students actually checking out books and using them.

    This bit stood out to me in reading:

    But there is a difference between preservation and access, and a significant difference, often unacknowledged, in the way we read books for research instead of pleasure. As the historian Michael O’Malley humorously summarized the nature of much scholarly reading and writing, “We learn to read books and articles quickly, under pressure, for the key points or for what we can use. But we write as if a learned gentleman of leisure sits in a paneled study, savoring every word.” Or as he more vividly described the research process, academics often approach books like “sous-chefs gutting a fish.”

    I know back when I was in college, while I would reference books or papers in my writing and research, I would do just this, read the introduction for a thesis, maybe track down a couple key phrases or a read a few pages for the section I really needed, and then put it back.

    Furthermore, if I could find an e-book copy of a source on google or elsewhere, I would CTRL+F the shit out of it just looking for the exact quote that I needed and would ignore much of the rest of the book. I imagine this method of "research" has only gotten more popular as more books are being put online in digital libraries and like myself, students today are going with the easiest option possible.

    6 votes
    1. [3]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. [2]
        45930
        Link Parent
        I think the bigger point, at least for me, is that no actual survey of literature is being done by college kids. You can just look for stuff with a title that seems to support what you’re saying...

        I think the bigger point, at least for me, is that no actual survey of literature is being done by college kids. You can just look for stuff with a title that seems to support what you’re saying and throw it in as a citation.

        I don’t know what the point is of citing 200 works for your thesis. If you “don’t have time” to read and understand another person’s work, then you shouldn’t use their work as a basis for your own.

        Now I understand that in the timeframe and level of baseline knowledge a college student has, it’s silly to expect any real research to be done, and I wouldn’t hold anyone to that kind of standard. But imo, maybe in addition to going through the motions of writing a paper with all these sources, another assignment could be to simply read and get very deep into something that interests you. Start with one paper and maybe a paper that it references and then the assignment could be a short summary of what you learned and how the more recent work built on the older work. Just as an example of an assignment that rewards reading comprehension rather than the copy paste game.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. 45930
            Link Parent
            Im not trying to take away from your work personally, or put down anyone for their own hard work. I’m taking a critical view on the process though. If you cite 50 papers to build a geological...

            Im not trying to take away from your work personally, or put down anyone for their own hard work.

            I’m taking a critical view on the process though. If you cite 50 papers to build a geological history, but you say yourself that many if not all of those 50 are unrelated to your own study then whats the point?

            I think one valid reason is to make students go through the process of citing things and discovering relevant papers.

            But there are other skills that aren’t getting trained by this exercise, namely critical reading and reading comprehension. Any given student can take it upon themself to read and understand some of the research they are citing, and even be critical of certain methods, but that’s not required to succeed at the research paper. The most important things, at least in my experience, is adherence to form (e.g. geological history) and proper methodology for your own experimentation.

            So the only point I’m trying to make, building on top of the comment about searching digital documents for good one-liners, is that potentially there are other skills that we should be developing in our students/future researchers in addition to those that are currently being developed.

  2. [2]
    j3n
    Link
    I'm not entirely sure that number of books checked out is a good metric for a university library. I wrote a great many papers for my undergraduate degree that had me spending many, many hours in...

    I'm not entirely sure that number of books checked out is a good metric for a university library. I wrote a great many papers for my undergraduate degree that had me spending many, many hours in the library doing research, hunting down books, skimming through them, reading the relevant bits in depth, all without checking anything out. I consider that part of my university experience to be near, if not at, the very top of the useful experiences during my time there.

    4 votes
    1. dubteedub
      Link Parent
      They do address that in the article as well:

      They do address that in the article as well:

      Maybe students aren’t checking the books out but are still consulting them regularly within the library? This also does not appear to be true. Many libraries also track such in-house uses, by tallying the books that need to be reshelved, and the trends are the same. At my library at Northeastern University, undergraduate circulations declined 50 percent from 2013 to 2017—before we decided to do our own book relocation—and our logged number of books removed from shelves but not checked out also dropped by half.

      3 votes