Death of the Reading List; Birth of the Keyword List

An ode to the original interface of the library: the reading list. It has acted as the primary method for guiding students to the hidden treasures of the library for centuries. And indeed this knowledge treasure map has been the de facto keystone to all higher education learning for centuries!

The only trouble with treasure maps is that they are intended for finding one physical object. And reading lists do not need to find just one piece of important information on a single shelf in the library anymore. Everyone has seen the statistics:

  • since 2000 knowledge doubles every five years,
  • there is more information available in a New York Times Newspaper than in all the newspapers of the 17th century,
  • there are over 11.5 billion pages on the web,
  • GoogleBooks will host the largest library collection in the world with 15million books by the end of the decade,
  • etc, so forth and so on.

The point being that it is not a single authoritative text that users should be arriving at, it is a single idea they should be seeking!

In the current model users are provided with a list of readings (and very soon those lists will automatically just link directly through to the text) they should be reading. And indeed, being able to envision a future where all students have simultaneous access to the same text for their next class is exciting (especially if pushed through to their mobile phone)! But that is not enough, as learning is not about being spoon-fed the same authoritative text; in fact the scholarly process requires the reading of dissident texts and disinformation so the scholar’s brain can begin to think for itself; to know the overall opinion of an idea and how it is applicable to other ideas!

Dear friends, colleagues, countrymen, the reading list must die! And out of the ashes will arise a new prima facie to the learning journey! This knowledge keystone should be nothing less than the keyword list. Let me explain in the form of a user case:

Neil the student signs in to his college’s VLE (eg Blackboard or Sakai). Upon entering his course module on ‘Politics in Third World Countries’ he discovers that his lecturer has posted next weeks “keyword list” for the upcoming class reading discussion. Rather than finding a list of bibliographic resources [ugh, just looking at it makes me think of reading hours wasted trying to track down a single book]:

1.) Abrams, Jacobs Howard, and Richard Greenblatt. Political Reformation in Post War Africa. W. Smith & Company, 2000.
2.) Gallagher, Catherine, and Pickles. Loss of Economy in Sub-Sahara Africa. University of Cairo, 2000.
3.) Perlmutter, Stephen. Death in the World: Riches and Political Power in American Diplomacy. Bloomsubry, 2005.

Instead of this dead-end trail, Neil finds within his online course module a keyword list in the form of a tag cloud, that looks something like this:

This series of keywords is not a dead-end, it is engaging because it provides an answer in the form of a question. Within this tag cloud are authors names, titles, abstracts, journals and numerous other keywords that are found in a reading list. The difference is that Neil must now engage with the scholarly process of finding information that is valid. And so Neil clicks on one of the keywords that take him through to a scholarly search engine to begin his journey!

Now, please do not mistake me I still think there should be one or two definitive text-objects that should be held up as exemplar “required readings” which students must come to class having read (emphasis upon one or two texts). And indeed this format works with modern day copyright [!]: in this ‘copy & paste’ era we can legally provide a single copy of that article to all of the class students via a link (soon all students will be able to read that article on the web at the same time, while creating annotation of the article: highlights, underlines, strikethroughs, circles, arrows, etc; thereby enhancing each other’s reading and getting them to participate in knowledge construction before they even enter the class). Gone are the days of “recommended reading”, where students are burdened with the pressure of having to read up to twenty books per week (‘required reading’ plus ‘recommended readings’).

So you heard it here first: well actually I heard this idea at the m-libraries conference from Chris Powis of Northamption University. Watch this space: I feel a project a-brewing!


~ by dfflanders on November 19, 2007.

4 Responses to “Death of the Reading List; Birth of the Keyword List”

  1. I have looked at the script.,

  2. It’s a very good site !! Very nice work, admin 🙂 Good luck !,

  3. I think your site is very good and complete, but the information you have here,

  4. Excellent site!,

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