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Tapping into the past

By Carroll Wilson

Circulation Librarian

For years as a newspaper editor I tried to figure out how so many minor typos and similar errors got into print.

I did a number of experiments where I tried my best to control all the variables, and I finally concluded that the error rate increased when we moved to computer screens, away from typewriters.

I never did find any scientific evidence or study results showing this to be the source of the problem. But, I still firmly believe that there is some sort of disconnect between the working brain and the computer screen that keeps normally error-free people from seeing the mistakes they make. The same sort of problem keeps copy editors from finding errors in the work of others.

I'm certainly prepared to be shown that I have been wrong.

One other effect of the move toward computers and away from typewriters was this: reporters' work was less organized and longer when generated on a computer rather than a typewriter. It was as if they became less thoughtful as they joyously typed away on their stories.

So, I found it interesting that NBC Nightly News reported yesterday evening about a writing teacher in California, I believe, who has his kids do their composing, not on laptops, but on typewriters -- old-fashioned typewriters.

It seems that, like me, he believes that the kind of device affects the end product, and when the device is a computer the end product is not better but worse.

I think people are just more deliberate when they use a typewriter. They're more careful. They're more thoughtful, too.

How nice to know someone somewhere agrees with me.

Lamentable if inevitable

About 30 years ago, I produced a piece for a television magazine program about the decline in the use of apostrophes in signs around the Amarillo area. (I was a TV reporter in Amarillo at the time.)

The problem was so widespread I had no trouble finding examples of confusion caused by the lack of these little devices.

Of course, nothing changed.

And nothing will change, according to two reports this week, one in "The Wall Street Journal" and the other posted at The Atlantic Wire by Jen Doll.

See, something called The Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names is in charge of assessing proper names of things like mountains and villages and historic sites around the country, and the board hates apostrophes. I don't know why.

I like apostrophes because I think they make things clearer at a small cost.

But, clarity just isn't that important any more -- especially in a world that texts and tweets everything, adopting acronyms and shortcuts for every word and phrase.

About which all one can do is rail until one is hoarse.

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.

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.

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.