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Librarian Blog

One way to beat high costs

Perhaps you've never heard of OpenStax College.

I had not heard of it until I ran across an article today at a library website.

OpenStax College is a book publisher based at Rice University, and among other things, I guess, it publishes college textbooks.

It's making news because OpenStax has announced that it will double the number of online textbooks it publishes by 2015, thanks to a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The books are offered for FREE.

The grant will let OpenStax develop and post books in six subjects -- precalculus, chemistry, economics, U.S. history, psychology and statistics.

Ultimately, according to the article I read at Infodocket.com, OpenStax plans to offer books for 25 of the nation's most-attended college courses. The university estimates students would save $750 million over five years.

Wow.

What a great thing for a university to be doing. Instead of holding students and their parents under until they blubber (or quit), here's a university trying to help their constituents out by reducing their costs substantially.

As I have mentioned here previously, the text for a college course I taught at UT-Austin in the spring of 2012 cost north of $100. I didn't require students to buy it, and because of that I spent a lot more time and trouble developing materials.

Not complaining. But, a text would have been nice to get into their hands.

Some day soon it's to be hoped that colleges will let their students use these OpenStax books and save all that money.

Fading, but slowly

The pace of deterioration in the periodical/newspaper publishing industries has not been as robust as I would have predicted six years ago when I left the Wichita Falls Times Record News.

But, then, I was pretty depressed back then.

My state of mind isn't much better as I think about the future of print journalism. The pace is slow, but the results seem inevitable.

Just recently, college students were asked the worst fields out there in career-land, and they chose "newspaper reporter."

That doesn't sound like they are rushing to join up.

And within the last week or so, the first-quarter financials have been issued by The New York Times Co. and The Washington Post Co. Both have suffered severe declilnes in profits generated from advertising revenue, which is where newspapers make their money. The declines were quarter to quarter, and no publication that I'm aware of has charted the steady decline in revenue from advertising since 2007. It would present a bleak picture.

One upbeat note: In the first quarter, 27 magazines were launched and only nine closed. But, more magazines were launched in the same period in 2012.

I notice that the Austin American-Statesman has relaunched a website, and they are plugging the heck out of it. My guess is that they are hedging their bets as fast as they can.

I haven't seen the new site. I'm a 7-day subscriber to the print edition, and will be loyal to print until the bitter end -- the end of me or the end of it, whichever.

I wish them well. They seem to me to be the only true watchdog over a state government run by appointed and elected people who are bent on plundering Texas for their own benefit.

It's about more than errors

The future of braille is not at all clear.

That's according to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. In its latest newsletter, the NLS says that even though technology has made it easier than ever to produce a standard printed book, technological solutions have not come so easily in the braille world.

If technology is a challenge, the bigger challenge for producers of braille materials is reflective of one of the bigger challenges facing publishers of all printed materials -- a lack of copy editors and proofreaders.

Almost every publication I come across contains errors. Some have a lot of errors. I remain fairly astonished that I find so many things wrong in books published by the top houses. I found so many mistakes in articles in a recent edition of The New York Times Sunday magazine that I wrote an email to the editor complaining about them. Never heard back, of course. The guy or gal had to be mortified.

I cannot imagine how much harder it must be to edit something in braille, though.

This situation, regardless of whether in regular print or in braille, is not going to get better. As I have written here before, colleges are eliminating required editing and proofreading courses, and they were never popular to begin with.

A real breakthrough for e-books

Hachette Books, one of the nation's leading publishers, has announced that effective next Thursday it will make its entire digital catalog of more than 5,000 e-books available for our patrons, as well as those of thouands of other libraries.

The bookw will be available for patrons to borrow through our OverDrive service, which can be accessed at our website.

Hachette publishes books by authors such as James Patterson, David Baldacci, David Sedaris, Kate Atkinson, Sandra Brown and Sara Zarr.

This is a big breakthrough for folks who want to read books with devices such as the Kindle or the Nook. Hachette has been one of the major holdouts on letting us buy their books so we can lend them to our patrons.

The argument they have put forward is a good one, and I sympathize with them. They fear the demise of printed versions of their books if demand skyrockets for digital formats.

And the prediction is that demand will skyrocket.

Still, thanks, Hachette, for facing reality.

Controlling the masses

People around the world have so many ways to communicate these days that governments are having a harder and harder time keeping secrets.

That doesn't mean they won't keep trying to control all that information that wants to be free.

This morning's "New York Times" brings us the not-so-surprising news that South Africa's government is trying to pass tougher laws on communications, making more and more subjects taboo and subject to punishment.

The U.S. government since 9/11 has taken extraordinary steps to shut down various kinds of conversations, and now we have courts and cops that can act completely in secret.

Fortunately, there are folks out there who help us keep track of how free our speech is. Google on Thursday issued its report on government requests to take down information.

Requests by governments to restrict or remove content increased by 26 percent in the last six months of 2012.

"In more places than ever, we've been asked by governments to remove political content that people post on our services," wrote Susan Infantino, Google's legal director, in a blog post. "In this particular time period, we received court orders in several countries to remove blog posts criticizing government officials or their associates."

The powerful around the world just can't stand in the light.

Which is why we must all be vigilant to make sure that government (of the people, by the people and for the people) remains open at all levels and in all ways.