A site of endless curiosity

Archive for September 30th, 2011

A Library without books

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A while ago I saw a news item on “television” (what’s that?) about the new Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago.  The library is a large impressive looking dome structure of glass and light.  The first question I had was, “Where are the books?”.  My first inclination was to think that the books are digitized along with the great advantage to search full text the entire collection and read any book at my fingertips using some sort of personal computer, tablet, book reader, or other wireless mobile device.

The 3.5 million volume collection in the Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago is out of  sight of the prying eyes of students, researchers, faculty, and alumni.  It is underground.  The collection is protected from ad hoc browsing, perusing, and sauntering-by.

Once you know exactly what book you want, and make a request to a computer, then, and only then, will the book will be mined from the subterranian cavern of 3.5 million volumes by diligent robots and delivered to your waiting hands.

Is automation progress?  And if so, at what loss?

Education and learning is as much about discovery as it is about pursuit of intentional learning goals.  Call it “serendipitous discovery”.  It happens when you browse the collection just to see what is there or when you go to the stacks and find a book close to the book that you were looking for and find something more interesting.  How dismal it would be if you only found what you were looking for.

Without serendipitous discovery you get into a “you loop” – it’s a world of one – yourself.  In the Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago you will find only what you are looking for.  What is the value of finding something you are not looking for?

What is happening in this library is similar to aggressive personalization of search engines like Google.  They only show you what they think you want to see.  So, the universe is muted.  They think that’s a good idea.  But is it?  From the former CEO of Google

The technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them – Eric Schmidt, Google CEO

Many people see the danger in this (read this post)

When I looked at the YouTube video comments I saw this –

I’m impressed and dismayed. Efficient storage, but a loss in serendipitous browsing.

That’s the first thing that came to my mind.  And I suspect that the same idea occurred to many students, researchers, and faculty at the U of Chicago when they first heard of the concept of a library without books.

Read more –

Written by frrl

September 30, 2011 at 4:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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