Free Books As Alternatives To Textbooks

Most academic libraries are driven by a student-centered approach to operations; doing what best serves the needs of students, within reason, should be at the core of decision making in academic libraries. One area in which this is most difficult is helping students cope with the high cost of textbooks. Readers of ACRLog are familiar with the litany of reasons why academic libraries avoid collecting textbooks. If nothing else, we might bankrupt ourselves if we had to purchase even a single copy of every textbook required each semester at our institutions.

While there have been some investigations into the high cost of textbooks there are currently no immediate solutions on the horizon. In this essay a rather radical alternative to pricey textbooks is suggested, the free book. “All Systems Go: The Newly Emerging Infrastructure to Support Free Books” by Ben Crowell presents an interesting look at how faculty might, using the WikiBook model, create alternate books for their students. Crowell acknowledges that there are barriers, the least of which is the textbook publishers themselves, but he presents a look at the different options and current ventures in producing free books.

I think we’d all agree that free books will never replace commercial textbooks, just as open access journals won’t replace subscription journals. But in the same way that open access journals have served to slow the increase in the price of those subscription journals with which they compete, it may be possible that a viable option for free books could encourage textbook publishers to price their books more reasonably. If you’ve heard stories on your own campus about students who are simply priced out of the ability to buy their textbooks or groups of students who buy one book and share it, then you know the current crisis in textbook pricing is not conducive to good learning.

Will Fair Use Survive?

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has issued a thought-provoking report, Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control Certainly that’s a question that interests librarians, but here the implications for the arts are especially well explored.

I found this via Library Journal’s Academic Newswire, which also reports on the OCLC market survey discussed here earlier.

Report – Archives and Manuscripts Need Attention

An ACRL member passed on this item, a call-to-action report about the neglected state of archives, manuscripts and artifacts in the nation’s museums and libraries.

The Heritage Health Index, the first comprehensive survey ever to assess the condition and preservation needs of U.S. collections, concludes that immediate action is needed to prevent the loss of millions of irreplaceable artifacts. These findings were announced at a news conference in New York City on December 6 and are detailed in A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America’s Collections.

Key findings include:
* 65% of collecting institutions have experienced damage to collections due to improper storage.
* 80% of U.S. collecting institutions do not have an emergency plan that includes collections, with staff trained to carry it out.
* 190 million objects are in need of conservation treatment.

The report calls on individuals in the private sector and at all levels of government to assume responsibility for providing support that will allow collections to survive. It also calls on institutions to develop emergency plans to protect collections, to give priority to providing safe conditions for collections, and to assign responsibility for collections care to staff members.

The Heritage Health Index is a project of Heritage Preservation, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency.
HHI was discussed on NPR’s All Things Considered on Monday, Dec. 12, see online NPR archive.

Folksonomy: Friend or Foe?

Folksonomy was given a blurb recently in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue. I first heard about folksonomy from a professor of digital art who pointed to the democratic possibilities of and flickr. When I ask catalogers about this phenomena they just kind of blink a few times and point out the need for authority control. Fair enough. But with more and more “libraries” moving to people’s desktops, isn’t knowledge of tagging, even just for one’s own information, an information literacy skill? Might we use the example of folksonomy to teach about the need for standardized headings? Or is folksonomy another example of the chipping away of the authority of the librarian and another sign of the death of the old world and the birth of a new one, one that includes librarians less and less?

HarperCollins Wants us to Search Inside – Their Vault

A story in The Wall Street Journal today announces “HarperCollins Plans to Control Its Digital Books.” They plan to spend seven figures to digitize their backlist by mid-2006 and open this “digital vault” to search engines rather than allow Google to scan their books. Though they found Amazon’s Search Inside program boosted sales, they are not too happy that Amazon is talking about selling content and see this as a chance to control their ditigal future – even at a cost.

This looks like one of the unforseen consequences of Google’s library program. Here’s a publisher who, thanks to all the fuss, has bought into the idea discovering book content through the Web is good for business – so good they’re willing to pay their own way.