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Re: Another Librarian Lecture

This is my 4th consecutive semester at Siena and 6th librarian lecture. This sort of statistic seems to be typical among Siena students. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. The key to this idiom is the fact that fishing is a useful skill for this otherwise hungry man to learn. The relation of this idiom to the numerous librarian lectures that so many Siena students have been forced to attend is the fact that these lectures are trying to force upon us a useless skill disguised as a useful skill. After attending 6 of these lectures, the only bit of knowledge I have gained is the fact that you cannot impose the relevance of an irrelevant and outdated institution upon someone after 6 mere hour-long lectures over the course of two years. I have a feeling they are going to try a 7th next. Persistence is not a virtue. Why would any rational person choose to use the library’s unnecessary and inefficient resources to complete a project when they have access to Google Scholar?

Siena is an undergraduate institution, with a majority of business students. We have one Master’s program, in Accounting. The overwhelming aim of students, especially business students in relation to non-core English related classes, is to receive high marks with as little effort and risk as possible. The risk bit in that assumption should rule out plagiarism, while the effort bit should rule out all but the most accessible of resources—aka Google Scholar. Yes, one could argue that the library’s various search engines are a close second in terms of accessibility. However the vast majority of the library’s other services, the services which are endlessly discussed in these lectures (inter-library loans for instance), are those services which are prohibitively inefficient. The instant gratification that online services offer is valuable. In fact I would argue that this accessibility is more valuable than the marginal increase in the quality of the less accessible sources that the library offers.

Graduate students are after the PhD, which requires an unholy number of accurate and detailed sources dating back years prior to what has been digitized. There are no limits to the value of a dissertation. Undergraduate students are after the grade, which is capped at an A+. In my experience the grade a paper receives does not correlate to the quality of its sources, but rather to the intelligence of the discussion. In fact in my experience most professors do not bother with anything more than a superficial source check. Cheers to those bold few who choose to cite books’ abstracts instead of reading them. The library offers a valuable service, to an extent; the lectures less so.

Quantitative Anyalysis:

Assumptions: Siena has an estimated 3,200 full time students. Each of these students pays $30,200 in tuition expenses alone. Each of these students takes 5 classes per semester. Each class is approximately 2,300 minutes per semester. This comes out to approximately 380 hours of classes per year (Fall + Spring semesters). This is approximately $80 of tuition per hour of class. Each librarian lecture runs approximately an hour.

Analysis: Assuming students average one lecture a year over the course of their 4-year education. This comes out to ¾ hours of unnecessary librarian lectures per student per year; assuming that the first lecture for any single student can be considered necessary. So these extra librarian lectures waste approximately $200,000 of Siena students’ tuition per year. I wonder, is that more or less than the library’s actual budget?

For the sake of knowledge, let us change the estimate. If every student were like myself and had been forced to attend an average of 3 librarian lectures per year—under the same assumptions—then the librarian lectures would be wasting approximately $700,000 of Siena students’ tuition per year; in addition to the library’s actual budget. The information these lectures provide can be obtained freely by actually visiting the library. Which is, coincidentally, what anyone who intends to use the information these lectures provide must do anyway. So these lectures are both redundant and wasteful in the extreme.

Re: Google Making Us Stupid

I find it curious that the author of this article so easily claims that the internet’s collective users have the attention spans of goldfish while writing such a long article. Did he actually want people to read it? Are those of us who did read the entire article supposed to think of ourselves as outliers positioned to comment on this “problem”? Regardless of the author’s intention, I read the article. Thoroughly. I read a similar article some time ago. It concerned a similar effect as this author describes with Google regarding family members. As I recall the article detailed how a person with a large families would not remember pieces of information that at least one other family member knew. Assuming my memory has not failed me, much like Google has in my search for this article, this concept demonstrates an early form of networking.

Our minds strive to be efficient both consciously and subconsciously. As dementia and other such age related neurological problems indicate, the brain atrophies over time. If we do not actively think, then we lessen or lose our ability to do so. So it could be expected for people to lessen the burden of their own memories by sharing seldomly used bits of knowledge with accessible relatives to safely allow themselves to forget it. In this sense Google only serves to expand the family-information networking niche that is ingrained in our DNA. Perhaps our supposedly shortened attention spans are the result of this shifting niche as well, since instead of memorizing pieces of information it has become more efficient for our minds to archive their locations.

There is nothing particularly beneficial in being limited to a human mind. Any step closer to putting a chip in my head that connects it to the internet is a step in the right direction.

Re: Copyright Law

Copyright law was designed to bypass the free rider problem in economics by incentivizing innovation. To invent something new to produce requires significantly more resources than producing something that has already been invented. For instance the schematics needed to produce an iPod are worth virtually nothing, perhaps the cost of a flash drive or a few sheets of paper today. However the initial cost to produce those schematics was tremendous. Research and development are extremely costly departments in industry; Apple’s R&D Department spent $3.4 billion the last fiscal year. Copyright and patent law exists to reward the “first” to any technological achievement. Without this incentive to invent and innovate it would be far more efficient to simply copy from the fools who dedicated all of their time and money to these technological achievements than invest in creating them yourself.

Unfortunately copyright laws today—like SOPA would have been—exist as woefully draconian things. They are like arbitrarily placed “Press this button and your life is over!” sorts of traps littered throughout our society, designed to weed out those unwitting or bold few among us who are foolhardy enough to challenge them. There is something titillatingly ironic about a large company suing a relatively poor individual for uploading a handful of songs and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in punitive damages, but that is the state of these laws today. There is a huge disconnect between the government, industry, and the intended purpose of copyright law. While these laws were originally intended to help technological advancement, it would seem that these laws are primarily being used by firms to bog down their competitors and startups in legal nightmares, and prosecute consumers for some extra profit.

SOPA was the natural advancement of these current sorts of copyright laws designed to ruin the lives of those who dare to interfere with corporate profit. Unfortunately for the various interest groups involved SOPA hit the spotlight, people protested, and the bill was shot down. Apparently people didn’t like the idea of being sent to jail over their song parody YouTube videos or other such fun sorts of arbitrary, punitive nonsense. Of course you can still be sent to jail for copyright infringement, but you have to go out of your way to do it.