Sunday, July 21, 2019

The College Bookpocalypse

By Professor Doom

     One of the few things every school must have is a library, it's literally written into the accreditation rules. A century ago this made sense as books were the primary means of retrieving and storing knowledge. If you’re reading this, then you know books have taken a back seat to the internet, aka “the font of all human knowledge.”

      Our schools which have been around a century or more have huge libraries, so they can be excused for having so much “wasted” space on a bunch of old tomes, but it’s interesting to watch these schools struggle to come to grips with modern reality:

The Books of College Libraries Are Turning Into Wallpaper

     The author of the above piece is the “Vice Provost for Information Collaboration.” I’ve mentioned many times the real issue in higher education expense is the proliferation of administrative positions, as evidenced by the ever more splendiferous titles they have. A good rule of thumb for fixing higher ed is simply to eliminate the positions with titles twice as long as the name of the holder. The holder in this case was a scholar though he long ago abandoned such pursuits in exchange for the kind of money most Americans could only dream about making.

Buried in a slide deck about circulation statistics from Yale’s library was an unsettling fact: There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library over the past decade.

     Wow. That’s a huge drop in use…the gentle reader can be certain there hasn’t been a drop in librarian positions, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for a position titled “Vice Provost for Information Collaboration,” i.e., “librarian.” We really should ask why the people running our schools get paid salaries to rival CEOs of fabulously successful corporations, yet run things so inefficiently.

       Anyway, the article cites around a 75% drop in book use by students over the last 20 years. While the internet is cited for the drop, I maintain there are other factors, and I’m not simply talking about how students aren’t assigned nearly as much work as a score of years ago.

       What kind of drops are we seeing in other populations on campus? Grad student use is down 61%, and faculty use is down 46%. Sadly, such statistics in a vacuum are hard to interpret—if there’s been a huge increase in faculty or grad students (there hasn’t for faculty to be sure), I can’t make a fair comparison but let’s just assume all these sub-populations have been stable…do so and we again have evidence that many students are buying their papers, more so than faculty or grad students, anyway.

      Of course, admin aren’t paid to think about such things, so let’s hear the musings of the Vice Provost for Information Collaboration:

At the same time that books lie increasingly dormant, library spaces themselves remain vibrant…

      Well, he makes sure his job is secure…making sure to emphasize the library is valuable even if the books aren’t. That’s some good information collaboration there!

Our research library…has also seen a surge in group work.

      In other words, the drop in use per student is probably much larger. It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned the huge emphasis of “group work” on campus, but this is just another way education is debased. We all know that “group project” just means some students in the group do all the work while one or more students do nothing and leech off the work of the diligent students…because we’ve all been there. But group projects are a staple of college courses now, those courses which still dare to assign work, anyway.

Statistics show that today’s undergraduates have read fewer books before they arrive on campus than in prior decades, and just placing students in an environment with more books is unlikely to turn that around.

      The average college freshman reads at the 7th grade level, so I accept those referenced statistics.

The sharp decrease in the circulation of books also obviously coincides with the Great Recession and with the steady decline of humanities majors, as students have shifted from literature, philosophy, and history to STEM disciplines—from fields centered on the book to fields that emphasize the article.

     Ok, I’m probably reading too much in the statistics above, but this whole bemoaning of the humanities is smoke. Our student loan scam has caused tuition to inflate so that only a fool would invest tons of money into a humanities degree of little value (the schools still get plenty of fools, however). If anyone in higher ed is serious about increasing humanities majors then there’d be real effort to lower tuition. Perhaps by reducing excessive administrative positions? What would the Vice Provost of Information Collaboration say?

       Do I hear crickets?

(I'm posting because Monday I get to have the first of two (or three, or four...) complicated lung surgeries; as per all cancer treatments, it'll be painful, involve months of misery, and the more it fails the more money modern medicine makes.)


  1. Group work. Group work. Arrrggggh!!!

    My first introduction to that was in my MBA program (highly ranked school). "You'll be working in teams, blah, blah, blah." Because you work in teams in the real world. Funny. We don't share salaries or spouses, so why are we sharing academic credentials?

    Fine. But, of course, as the only engineer in my group, I quickly realized I was the only one doing the statistics homework. Everyone was sitting around waiting for me to present my "findings". The best part was when my teammates would assure me that I was wrong about some of my answers without bothering to show me the right answer.

    However, I received some compensation come exam time. Yeah, they could leach off my problem sets, but my test answers belonged to me, worthless parasites! Enjoy that B+ (should have been a D, but...grade inflation).

  2. Years ago, I taught at the Renssalear Tech School of Engineering. We were NOT allowed to flunk any paying students. We had to nurse along the incompetent as much as possible.

  3. Dr. Doom, I am rooting for your safe own husband was in the hospital for the last month and a half, not a drop of water or food...started his first meals this week. They sent him home after only one meal. I am lucky, have higher education and abilities to keep him alive. I can't imagine the terrible things that happen to poor people who don't have higher training in these circumstances.

    1. Thanks; I'm recovering well from the first lung surgery; the next one will involve 12ish tumors, so extra brutal. I hate that the only way to get a straight answer on a medical question is to ask random guys on the internet (or look it up myself). There are two things I don't like about every doctor I've had so far: his face.

    2. Oh, and best wishes to your husband; I wrote the above the day after surgery, so please allow me some leeway for not wishing him well.

  4. Doctors get sued very easily so this makes them very wary of clients. Also, anger and fear are big issues for patients. One tool I use when others are in hospitals is, I hobnob with the staff, do little favors for them to make their day easier and show up at odd hours so they never know when to expect me. It generally works to keep everyone on the ball and working at their best.

    Doctors cannot say for certain what one's fate will be. My exhusband who is still alive, was the first survivor of melanoma many years ago in 1974. He was in NYC and had access to Manhattan doctors who did what was then, experimental stuff due to the expectation of dying anyways.

    He not only survived, he was one of the first chemotherapy patients. The point here is, you never know who will survive or not. So no one can foretell the future, it is always unknowable. The main thing is to keep the faith and be patient. The doctors and nurses usually are trying to do their best. They LOVE IT when a patient survives.

  5. Given library use shifting to STEM areas, why not limit public universities to core courses for STEM and dependent degrees paid for 100% by government and taught by full time professors.

    Students can take general studies courses in community colleges or online at their own expense.

    Core courses for other degrees taught in community colleges by adjuncts (they already are) and zero overhead unrelated to the actual task of teaching. Adjuncts can join state K-12 teachers unions for political clout.

    My experience suggests one department head with competent administrative assistant can mange several dozen adjuncts.

    Better ideas can be developed around those suggestions that would reduce higher education costs tremendously!