Short library loans and our ‘poverty of attention’

Despite containing only a fraction of Hallward library’s books, the title you require will so disproportionately often be found in the short loan section.

At least this place does what it says on the tin, but its 5 hour (11am-4pm) and 19 hour (4pm-11am) loans are an enduring frustration; especially considering it appears to possess Tardis-like qualities.

To keep hold of a book for any meaningful period of time will involve constant trips back and forth, not to mention early mornings. Indeed, with fines of 80p per hour – no less than £19.20 a day – the thought of stretching your luck with the librarian is probably not the best option.

We skim-read pages in search of a worthwhile quote

Rather than risk those 11am return deadlines (yes, that’s early morning), instead we skim-read pages in search of a worthwhile quote. The introduction and conclusion will be the centre of attention, but the hefty chapter four – which explores whatever subject in detail – left unused. Meanwhile, the idea of a book at its most fulfilling when read from front-to-cover, in the comfort of an armchair, is forgotten.

The point came to me after interviewing Ken Clarke for Impact. After twenty minutes of my questions, it was he who fired the curveball. “What are you reading?”, he asked. After racking my brains for an answer – preferably one that would sound intelligent, politically engaged and, considering the company, not too left-wing – it became clear that the question referred to my course rather than a specific book.

But now – other than on University Challenge – when do you hear of students as ‘reading’ their degrees?

In 1977 the Nobel-prize winning economist Herbert Simon predicted that ‘a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention’. For all its wonderful educating and democratising opportunities, this is one way the internet has affected us. Professor Simon has been proven right, but he might have replaced ‘wealth’ of information with simply ‘quantity’. With so much content available, we would rather get the message in as short a time as possible and move on. Hence the rise of the ‘listicle’: the online equivalent of flicking through a book in search of the pretty pictures.

The ‘listicle’: the online equivalent of flicking through a book in search of the pretty pictures

Short loans are there, of course, to ensure students can access the most-wanted books. But to increase supply would be better than restricting demand. Of all the money UoN spends, stacking shelves full of books should be a priority.

New media has its place alongside, not instead of, the traditional library. Short loans at Nottingham Trent’s library last 3 days. If ours realised that The Great Gatsby, The Imperial Presidency or No Logo cannot be read like a Buzzfeed article then we would all benefit.

Robert Smith


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