Scenarios behind technology and education debate

The Books Google Could Open

The nation's colleges and universities should support Google's controversial project to digitize great libraries and offer books online. It has the potential to do a lot of good for higher education in this country.
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This powerful tool will make less well-known written works or hard-to-find research materials more accessible to students, teachers and others around the world. Geography will not hinder a student's quest to find relevant material. Libraries can help to revive interest in underused books. And sales of books would probably increase as a result.

Book Search comes at a time when college and university libraries are hard-pressed to keep up with the publishing and technology revolutions. Budgets are stretched, and libraries must now specialize and rely on interlibrary loans for books in other subjects.

Student and faculty research has also been limited by what is on the shelves of campus libraries. A student can identify a book through an online library catalogue, but the book's content remains unknown. It must then be shipped -- an expense that may not be worthwhile if the book isn't what was expected.

With Book Search, it's easy to imagine a history student at a small college in Nebraska using the Internet to find an out-of-print book held only by a library in New York. Instead of requesting delivery of the book, he or she can read a snippet of it from Google's online catalogue and request it on interlibrary loan if it seems useful. Even better, the student can purchase the book in the same session at the computer.

This is a great example of how analogical reasoning (or the scenario part of conceptual frames/cognitive models) plays out in policy making. The whole article is leads up to the last paragraph (my emphasis) where a little story is told to illustrate the "trasnformative power" of a simple move in education. Now, don't get me wrong, I love google books and it would certainly make research much easier for me. However, there's more than a good chance that higher education will scarcely be affected by this - there is absolutely no element in the story that would describe the potential cumulative effect of many such students in Nebraska on the system of education as a whole. There isn't even a mention of how representative such a student in Nebraska is of the entire college student population or (more importantly) what motivation led him or her to a search for an out of print book or how likely he or she would be to actually purchase.

Similar reasoning can be found behind the recently popular Long Tail idea.