Stephen E. Arnold: Seriously Stupid at Yale — Mobile Search vs. Library Stacks

Academia, Idiocy, IO Impotency
Stephen E. Arnold

Books and Learning: Go Mobile, Stay Clueless

I read “The Books of College Libraries Are Turning into Wallpaper.” The main idea is that today’s students are not using libraries to locate books which are then read, thought about, and analyzed in order to:

  1. Learn
  2. Find useful facts
  3. Exploit serendipity
  4. Figure out which source or sources is relevant to a particular issue or topic.

The Atlantic states about Yale University:

There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library over the past decade.

News flash.

Once online information systems found their way into libraries in the 1980s, the shift from books to online information access was underway. How do I know? I worked at the database unit of the Courier Journal & Louisville Times. Greg Payne and Dennis Auld acquired the Abstracted Business Information product and converted it to an online research source for those interested in the major journal articles about commercial enterprises. The Courier Journal acquired the database product and marketed ABI/INFORM to university libraries with some success. Many people rowed the boat that raced to become one of the most widely accessed business information databases in the world in the period from 1980 to 1986 when other online products nibbled into ABI/INFORM’s position.

The point is that 1980 to 2019 is the period in which the shift from journals and books to online for certain types of research has been chugging along.

Net net: The decline in the use of books has been underway for more than 39 years. The consequence is less informed people who routinely tell me, “I am an expert researcher.” What these individuals lost in a cloud of unknowing do not comprehend is that someone is deciding for them what is relevant and important. You may call atrophied thinking an oddity. I call it “deep stupid.” In a well stocked library one can become deeply informed.

ROBERT STEELE: I knew more about citation analytics as a freshman in college than most if not all members of the National Intelligence Council in history or today.  Steve’s core point is that #GoogleGestapo is feeding subsidized garbage to those stupid enough to do their homework via online search engines, foregoing the following:

01 Reference librarians skilled as discovery across multiple disciplines

02 Serendipitous finds (the Dewey filing system is actually quite wonderful for finding totally unexpected perspectives grouped together

03 Citation analytics that reveal the very latest work based on citations of past works

04 Inter-Library Loan to get to the latest works if not in stock [in 1986 I was told by the Reference Library at CIA that I was responsible for 25% of all CIA copy requests for articles — at the time I was “reading in” to Artificial Intelligence. The other 3,000 or so at HQS building: 75%.  This should give folks pause.  Neither the analysts nor the case officers nor the so called scientific and technology subject matter experts read very much.  Certainly they don’t go looking for new stuff. This is a problem.

05 Last but not least, and Paul Strassman made this point in his book Information PayOff, there is a visceral memory function that is pushed by the hand eye coordination and the human interaction with a book as an object. It is not possible to replicate this with one at a time online views. Eugen Garfield and Doug Englebart each in their own way were trying to create a web of knowledge or Open Hypertextdocument System, but as I have written often, today’s online tools for thinking are retarded.

Eventually we will re-invent education, intelligence, and research.  Until then 50% or more what we learn is crap devised and delivered for the highest bidden behind the crap, not for the benefit of the student.