This is another post as a follow-up to the May 2011 IT department-wide meeting where we discussed the changing landscape of technology, higher education and the journey within Butler IT.
Question: Do you think we will ever operate in a truly PAPERLESS world? Or in a world where all of the information we need is truly at our FINGERTIPS? Or in a world without BOOKS?
Heck if I know the answer! But I do believe in the old proverb that says “The only constant in life is change.” And change is among us.
In one of my prior communications I noted that Amazon—likely my most favorite company for all sorts of reasons–is now selling more eBooks than paperback and hardcopy books combined. And this is after only four years of selling eBooks. That is a rate of GROWTH not commonly seen outside a petri dish!
This week, Amazon announced that it will be entering the textbook RENTAL business, via its Kindle. While I can’t predict how they will do in the rental business, they will be serving a group of customers (students) that are digital-savvy and hate paying the price they do for textbooks, so this is darn interesting. See more at http://usat.ly/pV6tZF .
Also this week, longtime book retailer Borders has decided to go out of business entirely versus just continuing to downsize– http://usat.ly/r6kuXk . On a personal level, this is sad as I have many fond memories of browsing the stacks in Borders & picking out something to read in one of their comfortable couches, reading children books with Katie, and browsing their CDs (yep, I’m older). But I can’t honestly remember when I last actually went into a Borders; now I browse Amazon reviews or go to Starbucks with Katie and my iPad or browse free book samples on my wife’s Kindle. And I look for music via iTunes. Unlike Borders, it looks like Barnes & Noble will survive as they have downsized but they also have changed their business model to focus on non-book items: e-readers, eBooks, coffee and the like.
J. K. Rowling, who has up to now kept all of her Harry Potter books off of e-readers, has even changed her mind. Her steadfastness that people needed the experience of a real book has changed, recognizing the next generation of readers. Rowling will be making all of her books available electronically come October (via www.pottermore.com).
Within the IT department at Butler, we have both the Kindle & Nook devices for testing if anyone wants to experiment with them. The latest Nook from Barnes & Noble really hits the mark per my wife, Holly, as it retains the e-ink that serious readers feel is essential to good quality, is small & lightweight, PLUS has added the touch screen user interface made so popular by the iPhone/iPad. So on the latest Nook, you can change pages or look up a word simply by touching the screen. At $139, these e-readers aren’t yet for the masses, but they are getting closer. If anyone wants to try one, get in touch with Kendra. Or bug Joe A to be next on the list for the one he currently has.
Within Butler’s libraries, we have over 75,000 electronic books available through any web browser. 75,000+! And the library is spending more of their budget now buying electronic resources than traditional books & journals. (Unfortunately, the ever more popular Kindle & Nook e-readers are based on a somewhat proprietary format, so most of Butler’s 75,000 books are not yet downloadable to these devices; but just wait). Butler’s libraries are evolving to a digital resource center, not a center of books & journals. This is part of the reason for the Information Commons program, a joint effort between the libraries and IT. Down the road the HB Science library is expected to be a place for studying and research, but with no actual stacks of books – they will be available electronically or moved to Irwin.
On a separate note, here are two other bits of CHANGE I saw in the tech world so far this week:
American Express credit cards is teaming up with Facebook; see http://usat.ly/mXQmPQ . At first, this seemed like a very odd match to me and one I wouldn’t necessarily bet on, but hats off to American Express for trying to evolve in this world of social media.
Also, computer bar codes – more specially “QR” codes — are starting to show up everywhere, even on GRAVE MARKERS. Who would have envisioned the digital transformation impacting cemeteries?!@! More info on this tidbit is at http://usat.ly/ruNn6b .
So what will the future look like? I love what Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist, once said: “Predictions are very difficult, especially about the future.” With the rate of change today, nobody has a way to know what the world will look like in 5 years, much less 10 or 20! But we can do things now that help us evolve. Alan Kay, a pioneer of graphical user interface design, dealt with this challenge by saying “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
I truly believe we in IT can indeed help invent the future for Butler University. We have strived to include the essential building blocks– technology, processes, and people—in the technology master plan ( http://www.butler.edu/it/tmp). For example, we have a project slated for this year to further explore e-textbooks. We have acquired a variety of devices—Android, Nooks, iPads, Kindle—for experimentation; the incoming COPHS Physician Assistant (PA1) students will receive an iPad and a laptop this year; we’ve be actively learning the good & bad of an iPad as a classroom tool. IT staff are working with Arthur Hochman (COE) to help him bring their traditional Discipline Guidance document to life via an app or eBook. We have a mobile version of www.butler.edu (m.butler.edu). The Butler network is being redesigned. So while the PC & Mac are critical tools, we are recognizing that the future will be less PC/Mac-centric and less browser-centric as our clients utilize more consumer-oriented devices.
Another area that the ongoing change affects us is in users’ expectations. Amazon and Barnes & Noble provide very rich web experiences to their customers—rich reviews, easy search, discussion forums, low prices, 24×7 downloads, etc. As part of our ongoing IT journey, we will need to continually look at the way we provide information to our clients: Can they readily access or move content to a device of their choice? Is it locked away or easily searchable? Is it easy for users to contribute? The days of us just pushing to them only want we think they need is soon to be gone; clients often want to contribute content and the end-result is better because of it; our blog software is a great start but we’ll need to think this way across more areas of content. So with your help, we continue to evolve.
So while the future is unclear, I absolutely believe that this is a great period in time for IT — with a combination of creativity, focus & hope, we can indeed do great things together for the future of Butler University.
Let me wrap up with this famous quote from Albert Einstein:
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Thanks for being on the IT journey with us all,