Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Content, Not Format

I sent this tweet (and posted it as a status update on Facebook as well) in a moment of deep frustration. Leading up to that point, I'd had a string of interactions, with students, faculty, and staff that left me slightly gobsmacked. Although the specifics were different, in each moment I was being told, "Paper good. Electronic bad." I don't want to share further details since I'm not interested in shaming the people involved. What I want is to educate them. Even still, I can't help imagining these people talking like characters from Animal Farm:


When I posted the above to my social networks, I was expecting it to be one of the many many tweets/Facebook status updates I send off into the abyss. I was wrong. In fact, the response was so strong, that I realized there was a blog post in it. However, before I go any further, I want you to know that I know writing this post to my typical audience is preaching to the converted. I see this more as me giving you ways to present the topic to those who still need convincing.

So, we need to ignore my previous exhortations that all sources should be evaluated based on the Five Ws, and pretend that we know absolutely nothing about the merit of different resources. Let's look at the kinds of arguments that might work to convince someone to change their stance on this issue:

  • There is no such thing as a source that is never appropriate (go ahead, write an essay about Wikipedia without citing Wikipedia, and see what kind of response you get).
  • Also, there is a risk in professors taking this kind of stance around students, particularly those who are younger than 25 and whose brains are still maturing, is that students can be so literal. I have, more than once, tried to bring a student over to a computer to show him/her how to use the online public access catalog, only to be told, "Oh, I'm not allowed to use online sources."
  • What about all the craptastic, self-published books?
  • What about all the refereed, web-based publications? One example is Disability Studies Quarterly, a source that, in the past, I required my own students to read.
  • We also need to remind people that so many online sources are faithful reproductions of publications that were originally hard copies.
  • A more practical argument is that, with book budgets being slashed, the books in the physical library can sometimes (though not always) be terribly out of date.

I tell people all these things, and yet some of them still insist that paper is supreme. Usually, though, if I'm persistent and keep presenting examples, I win them over.

How do you change people's minds about this? Also, why do you think we're still fighting this fight? Is it that nobody has tried to convince the "Paper good; electronic bad" crowd? Or is it something deeper?


  1. It may be something about the permanence of the information. Time to whip out the stone tablets.

    1. I've said it before and I'll say it again: information literacy applies to the electronic world! I see this as a huge opportunity for librarians. However, I've run into faculty at two institutions who, on occasion, discourage students from using electronic sources. It's an epic fail for critical thinking IMO.

  2. As a member of the over 50 crowd I'd like to say that while books are all well and good for reading, electronic resources are by far the best source for all things research and information literacy related. And let's face it, who wants to drag paper along on vacation when they can just load their favorite titles onto the old eReader. Even my 80 year old mother-in-law knows that.