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Librarian Blog

College costs, Part 1

The average cost of tuition and fees for students at four-year colleges rose 6.7 percent between 2010-11 and 2012-13, continuing the skyrocketing rise in student financial burdens.

That 6.7 percent rise was for in-state students.

Oddly, the increase was less steep -- 4.1 percent -- for out-of-state students and lower-still for private nonprofit and for-profit colleges -- 3.1 percent and -2.2 percent respectively.

These numbers all are adjusted for inflation and come from National Center for Education Statistics. They were just released.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the cost of books and supplies actually dropped on average at all four-year institutions, and a whopping -2.7 percent in public for-profit colleges.

I suspect, however, that the costs for books and supplies are lower because more professors are letting students use books available via the Internet or via digital e-books. Additionally, costs were probably lower because professors just aren't requiring students to buy texts, recognizing that textbook prices are out of control. (I taught a news editing class at the University of Texas in spring 2012, and I required no text. The book that I might once have used cost more than $100. I thought it too pricey.)

In Part 2: What role does professor compensation play in the rising cost of college?

Jumping on a speeding train

A vast majority of adults who visit with America's librarians about what they want or need in the way of services bring up techological or digital literacy as a priority.

A survey by OCLC Research taken in June of U.S. librarians turned up that not very surprising trend. The survey results were just published by OCLC WebJunction.

One of those polled told OCLC Research that, "Patrons are realizing that digital literacy is a speeding train that they need to catch."

Wish I'd said that. It's certainly true of people I talk to here at the library.

We are continuing to take our own survey to see what people would like us to offer in the way of educational programs this fall. So far, thre seemsx to be a big demand for training on anything Microsoft. But, lots of folks also want to learn about Adobe Photoshop.

If you have an interest in such classes, please take a minute to complete the survey on our home page. Or come by the library and fill out a paper form, if that's your preference.

If you've already taken the survey, thanks!

Of course

The reason monopolies are bad for consumers has long been made by, well, monopolists themselves.

Let a company get exclusive or near-exclusive title to some part of the market, and that company will take advantage of its position to maximize profits.

If this were not true, government would never step in to foster competition.

Little wonder, then, that Amazon, the biggest bookseller of all time, is now profiting from its gargantuan position to raise the prices of its offerings to make more and more money.

To get to where it is now, Amazon kept prices artificially low, bringing in customers so it could grow its market share.

The pricing back then was predatory.

And so it is now with prices rising.

This all should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.

But, today's New York Times carries an article that has a tone of incredulity about Amazon's price-hiking.

Now it is time for government to step in and protect book-buyers from this modern Robber Baron.

Making peace with 'War and Peace'

Right after I retired and moved to Wimberley I came to the library to check out a book I had always intended to read but just never had time to pick up and start.

I have a master's degree in English, but no professor I ever had wanted me to read "War and Peace."

So, I didn't.

I never told anyone I hadn't read Tolstoy. I just skirted the subject if it came up.

I checked out the library's copy and lugged it home and sat down and started at the first page, and at that first page I decided I would not be reading "War and Peace" -- ever. Why? Because the dialogue was in French, not in English. I don't know French. And I will not be learning French. I have enough trouble with English.

I am making this confession now because it just so happens that one of the authors I admire, Christopher Buckley, just made his own confession to The New York Times Book Review that he has never read "War and Peace," either.

"My standard excuse for this appalling illiteracy is: 'I'm saving it for my final illness,'" Buckley told The Book Review.

He will never read "War and Peace."

Wow: Sure makes me feel better.

-- Carroll Wilson, Circulation Librarian

How bad is it?

Rumblings come from hither and yon about this or that library that is facing financial cutbacks.

But, I have generally assumed that the cuts were due to overall weakness in local government revenue streams because of the recession.

Libraries would seem to be an easy place to save some money since what we offer is more a "soft" service than a hard one like water or sewer service.

So it came as something of a mild jolt when I learned this week that The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries will begin with a working group next month to "create a common vision for public libraries."

The institute will convene dozens of business, government and library leaders to talk about our futures because, to quote from a press release, "public libraries in the U.S. are at a crossroads."

It is certainly true that the digital world offers libraries new and new and interesting challenges, but it is just not true that the rise in use of e-materials spells doom for libraries down the road, at least in the near term.

And for that near term, libraries probably need more money, not less, to help patrons get up to speed on all things digital while maintaining print collections and responding to the needs of people who cherish actual books and magazines.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what kind of common vision the institute's group comes up with.

Our vision is reflected in the district board's five-year plan, just adopted earlier this year. That vision places the library squarely at the center of a more- and more-connected community, fostering dialogue and providing various entry points for people to access information they might not be able to find elsewhere easily.