December 10, 2001


More reader mail! 

From gn:

Your rant is "bunk" as you put it. Have you used the Questia service lately? It's great! What about all of us distance learners? It great to have access to a lot of material at home. Obviously, it doesn't take the place of a library and from what I've read, Questia does not want to. As for reading a book on a screen, I agree - who wants to do that? But, I can quickly find text and passages appropriate for my papers, make footnotes, and place notes in the books. If I wrote in one of your books you would probably get pretty pissed. Besides, many times the library doesn't have the book I want because someone else has it out. Here the books are always available.


Perhaps I didn't make myself clear in my "Questia for Fire" rant: I am not against "e-books" or "digital media".

In fact, I'm quite the advocate for digital resources at my own library for some of the same reasons that you mentioned - "always available" resources for students and better access for distance learners. My institution subscribes to netLibrary which provides a similar service to students as Questia.

I guess our differences lie in the fact that I believe that a learning institution should be responsible for making research available for distance learners, while you think students themselves should have to shell out extra money to have access to books.

This has been my second email from a Questia supporter in the last two weeks, so I ask my (three) readers to please indulge me as I clarify my Questia rant again. 

My rant stemmed from three points. 

1) Questia has an awful and poorly executed business model. Questia was constructed around the premise that 5% of the United States undergraduate population (about 615,000 kids) were going to pay $20 a month for something that they can get for free. 

For this unpromising scheme, Questia was rewarded with over $135 million dollars in venture capital. 

Ah, but the chickens are coming home to roost. Questia has recently laid off half its staff and is rumored to have only 5,000 paying customers.


2) Questia has positioned itself between the student and the publisher and as such, it competes with the library. 

Now, I'm not saying that this is an outright sin. Libraries have developed reciprocal relationships with for-profit publishers. Why not can't for-profit Questia-type things exist?

Well, the short answer is that libraries are more than storehouses of books. The library's existence is a result of a lot of big ideas such as "intellectual freedom", "information literacy", and "collection development". The long answer would be to expand that last sentence into a meaningful argument which I am not going to do.


3) The media coverage of Questia drives me crazy. 

The company is obviously going to tank and still magazines like Newsweak continue to wank about the company:

Troy Williams thought he had real academic ability. But he grew up in Mystic, Conn., the blue-collar community celebrated in the Julia Roberts film “Mystic Pizza” —and no one pushed him very hard in school. Williams managed to get into a small college in a New York suburb. The courses were limited. The library was an embarrassment, with many volumes written before anyone had heard of Dwight D. Eisenhower or J. Robert Oppenheimer. Those limitations intrigued Williams. He believed he was as smart as a kid who’d gone off to Yale (like one of the women in the movie), but he was stuck at a college without enough resources to let him show what he could do.

What the hell?!? Is the author of this piece trying to blame the college library for
limiting the aspirations of a working-class boy? 

And if the crime indeed is that the library "had many volumes written before anyone had heard of Dwight D. Eisenhower", could someone please buy this typist a clue? The whole freaking point of a library is to have old volumes of books because otherwise, when they go out of print, there are no longer readily available to the general public.

Ooof. Back to Richard's charges.

I just found this article while surfing - it's quite old,

(January 2001 is quite old? Good! I'm hoping to keep the aspirations of the working class student down)

 but the nature of the text required a reply. You are obviously misinformed, ignorant of the service, and rather close-minded. It almost seems as though you are scared of losing your job - why? There will always be a need for libraries and good librarians. 

Such insight into my psyche. 
Have you taken Psych 101? 

This service provides distance learners, people living in rural areas, and even those in foreign countries who DO NOT have access to an "academic library" with the ability to read and research with high quality materials. In the opinion of this student, Questia is a move forward for society.

Free speech is a great thing isn't it!

>gn - University of Delaware

Yes, free speech is a great thing. But I'm still not big on speech that costs a student $20 a month. If Questia turns out to be the Alexandrian digital library of our time, then let the schools pay for it for every student's benefit.

Until then, Questia will only move society forward when it begins its final faceplant.