Stanford prepares for a “bookless library”

One chapter is closing—and another is opening—as Stanford University moves toward the creation of its first “bookless library,” a smaller but more efficient and largely electronic library that can accommodate the vast, expanding, and interrelated literature of Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering, reports the San Jose Mercury News. “The role of this new library is less to do with shelving and checking out books, and much more about research and discovery,” said Andrew Herkovic, director of communications and development at Stanford Libraries. Libraries are the very heart of the research university—but the accumulation of information online is shifting their sense of identity. For 40 years, the metal shelves of the modest Physics and Engineering libraries were magnets to thousands of students and faculty, including Nobel Prize winners Douglas Osheroff, Robert Laughlin, and Steven Chu, who now directs the U.S. Department of Energy. The future library will offer a stark contrast. It’s only half the size of the current Engineering Library but saves its space for people, not things. It features soft seating, “brainstorm islands,” a digital bulletin board, and group event space. There are few shelves, and it will feature a self-checkout system. It is developing a completely electronic reference desk, and there will be four Kindle 2 eReaders on site. Its online journal search tool, called xSearch, can scan 28 online databases, a grant directory, and more than 12,000 scientific journals. Several factors are driving the shift. For one thing, Stanford is running out of room, restricted by an agreement with Santa Clara County that limits how much it can grow. Adding to its pressures is the steady flow of books. Stanford buys 100,000 volumes a year — or 273 every single day. “Most of the libraries on campus are approaching saturation,” Herkovic said. “For every book that comes in, we’ve got to find another book to send off…”

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Stanford students’ video helps effort to save preemies

Through an experimental class at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business that tries to use social media for the public good, a trio of students posted a video to YouTube this spring promoting an organization that hopes to save the lives of millions of prematurely born babies in India and other developing nations by creating an innovative, low-cost baby incubator—and now the video has gone viral, reports the San Jose Mercury News. A version of the students’ video on behalf of the nonprofit organization Embrace will soon be appearing on digital billboards across India, after it was noticed on YouTube by the CEO of India’s first interactive digital billboard company. That instant digital connection from Palo Alto to Mumbai—unthinkable before the era of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—is the focus of “The Power of Social Technology,” a new class that Stanford business professor Jennifer Aaker was inspired to teach after watching one of her students launch an effort on the internet to find South Asian bone marrow donors for two friends who were critically ill with leukemia. Enlisting an all-star cast to help teach the course, ranging from entertainer and Twitter apostle MC Hammer to executives with Pixar and the international micro loans organization Kiva, Aaker is trying to make the point that a company can earn a profit and help social change, and that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can be powerful tools for that change…

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Professors not ROTFL at students’ text language

College professors are anything but LOL at their students’ recent writing habits, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Not only are instructors not laughing out loud—shortened to LOL in text messages and online chats—at the technology-oriented shorthand that has seeped into academic papers, but many of them also sternly telling students to stop using the new language even in less formal writing. “Despite the fact that I happen to be perfectly capable of reading any incoherent drivel you may send to my inbox directly from your phone keypad, ‘wut up ya I cnt make it 2 clss lol’ is insanely unprofessional,” reads the syllabus of Alejo Enriquez, a Cal State East Bay instructor. “Therefore, I am imposing a higher standard of grammar, spelling, and use of the enter key upon you and kindly request that all eMails sent to me resemble any other letter to your teacher, supervisor, grandparents, or parole officer.” Faculty members increasingly have expressed irritation about reading acronyms and abbreviations they often do not understand, said Sally Murphy, a Cal State East Bay professor and director of the university’s general-education program. One eMail to a professor started with, “Yo, teach,” she said. “It has a real effect on the tone of professionalism,” said Murphy, who also has seen younger instructors use the shorthand. “We tell them very specifically how this is going to affect them in life. It’s kind of like wearing their jeans below their butt. They’re going to lose all credibility.”

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‘Math wars’ over national standards might erupt again in California

The contentious debate over how California students should learn math is ready to erupt again, reports the San Jose Mercury News. As the United States prepares for the first time to adopt nationwide K-12 “common core” standards, mathematicians and educators are split. Some hail the proposals as a groundbreaking advancement, because students will develop a more solid footing in math before rushing to the next level; others fear the plan would propel California backward. Each side warns that America’s future as a global science and technology powerhouse is at stake. A national committee representing 48 states and the District of Columbia has drafted the common standards for what students should learn in English and math. California can choose not to adopt the federal standards but would miss out on competing for hundreds of millions in federal stimulus dollars. While the proposed English curriculum hasn’t provoked an outcry, the math debate echoes California’s “math wars” that raged in the 1990s and led to repeals of reforms that favored problem-solving, applications, and group work over traditional teaching. Under the new proposed standards, primary students would spend more time going in depth on concepts before learning new skills. That means California students would learn multiplication in fourth grade rather than third. But some critics think the new standards set the bar too low for college readiness. Rather than following in step with other states, these critics say, California should be looking to keep up with India, Singapore, and Europe…

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