Friday, March 11, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is derisive of the claim that there should be quotas to ensure that more women become company directors

A true horror story for any scholar

University libraries are throwing out old books wholesale. This is quite simply a danger to knowledge. Soon we are only going to be allowed to know what our "betters" allow us to know. Hang on to your books! I know that I have some old books which I am going to ask my son to keep after I am gone

THE University of NSW is throwing away thousands of books and scholarly journals as part of a policy that critics say is turning its library into a Starbucks.

Academics say complete journal collections, valuable books and newspapers dating to the 19th century are being thrown out to clear space for cafe-style lounges.

The Herald has obtained an internal document listing thousands of titles due to be pulled from shelves. The 138-page "weeding" list includes encyclopaedias, dictionaries, books in foreign languages and texts on psychology, politics and morality.

The policy, which until recently required librarians to remove 50,000 volumes each year, does not allow the last Australian copy of any book to be discarded. But it has opened an ideological row about the function of modern libraries as more research material becomes accessible online.

Already, thousands of books have been dumped in skips in the library basement and staff in various disciplines say they have not been given the opportunity to salvage them.

"This is a scandal. It's outrageous on a whole number of different levels," said Peter Slezak, an associate professor in the school of history and philosophy. "Anyone that has anything to do with books is distressed at this. They are extremely good books."

The cleanout has so upset some that library staff have rescued books destined for the bin. One former library assistant said he had taken more than 200 books. "If the book's not borrowed in the last couple of years, they throw it out," he said. "Most libraries see their function as an archive but these guys see it almost like a video store. After you've had the book five years, why keep it?"

Most shocking, he said, was the disposal of a collection of newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s. "They're getting rid of books to make space for students to sit around, have lunch and plug their laptops in. Bizarrely, they've turned the library into a kind of a Starbucks," Professor Slezak said.

A university spokeswoman said that since August library policy no longer set a target for the number of books to cull. Superseded textbooks were hard to give away, some titles were moved into storage and libraries worldwide faced the same dilemma, she said.

"The library has an ongoing program to remove print journals where online archival access is provided. Our academic community prefers to use the online versions and they use them very heavily," she said.

Dr John Golder, a visiting research fellow in theatre, feared the digitisation of libraries would prevent students stumbling across new information. "A serendipitous discovery is impossible when the book isn't there," he said.

A professor in the school of history and philosophy, David Miller, understood libraries could not preserve everything but thought consultation could be improved. "There's something profoundly wrong, and symbolically wrong, about a university destroying books," he said. "Universities are in the business of passing on knowledge and books - no matter how the use of books is shrinking - still remain a very important symbol of knowledge."


Some letters on the issue below

There were many distressing stories in the newspapers this morning, but none so immediately depressing as the story on what my university is doing to our books ("Books get the shove as university students prefer to do research online", March 8).

It is 50 years almost to the day that Ray Bradbury published his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, an allegory about book-burning and the suppression of ideas. He meant it as a warning and I don't suppose he really expected it to become fact. He would be galled and appalled to learn that it has.

That this is happening in a "place of learning" makes it doubly significant.

The UNSW library is such a depressing place these days - there are entire floors where it is hard to find a book at all. The explanations offered by UNSW that people don't want these books and that nothing for which there is no electronic copy is junked are nonsense.

I recently went searching for a 19th-century Government Gazette (for which there was no electronic version) only to be told by a distressed librarian that they had been found in a skip in the basement, along with many other irreplaceable items. At their own expense, the librarians rescued these and sent them to a library where they would be appreciated - Dili in East Timor.

What is happening to the UNSW library is just one aspect of a dumbing down of the university in the name of competition - to change it from a collegiate place of learning to (in the Vice-Chancellor's words) an "education destination".

You don't get a very good education at a university without books.

Dr Geoff Lambert Prince of Wales clinical school, University of NSW, Sydney

UNSW's book "cull" is extremely short-sighted. Research does not follow a straight line; it thrives on the kind of serendipitous discoveries that databases make impossible. When I was at university (in this century), the books I stumbled across in the library amounted to a second education. At the very least those of us who love books would have appreciated a chance to salvage what we could.

Alan Miller Hornsby [My experience was similar -- JR]

There are two aspects to UNSW's policies that if more widely adopted will have an effect on libraries and their patrons. Libraries have always operated within a spirit of co-operation and this manifests itself in the inter-library loan. This means that when a patron wishes to borrow a book not held in a library but held by another library the patron's library can borrow that book from a library which holds it.

A spoiler within this practice has arrived in the form of e-books which have licensing restrictions. The New York Times reported in March that a large US publisher owned by Rupert Murdoch will sell e-books to libraries that can be borrowed a maximum of 26 times for each title purchased. The library holding that e-book can no longer lend it out after 26 times. Does this mean the library will have to keep purchasing copies of the same title?

Many libraries also are transferring subscriptions from the hard copy of scholarly journals to online versions. The licensing of these online subscriptions restricts distribution of copies of articles within those scholarly journals to third parties, i.e. other libraries via inter-library loan. Furthermore, if a library discontinues a subscription of an online scholarly journal it no longer has any holdings of that journal.

When you purchase a printed copy of a book or scholarly journal it is yours to keep forever. Librarians need to think long and hard about the implications of discarding the hard copy.

Wendy Cousins Balgownie


The 48-hour delay that flooded Brisbane

Lethargic bureaucrats failed to act promptly, in true bureaucratic style

ENTRIES in the "flood event log" for the devastating Brisbane River flood reveal that the senior engineers in charge knew by 7.10pm on Sunday, January 9, that high releases of water from Wivenhoe Dam would be needed "in view of heavy rain over the last three hours".

The entries also show that senior engineers proposed more than doubling the releases, from 1400 cubic metres a second (cumecs) to between 3000 and 3500 cumecs that Sunday night to give the dam more storage capacity to manage the flood and intensifying rainfall.

But it took until Tuesday, January 11, when the dam was almost full for SEQWater, which employs the engineers who operate Wivenhoe Dam, to start releasing more than 3000 cumecs.

By Tuesday evening, with the dam at risk, the releases were dramatically ratcheted up to 7500 cumecs - flooding thousands of Brisbane homes and leaving a damage bill of billions of dollars.

Revelations in the official log entries by key personnel of SEQWater during the disaster raise serious questions about whether engineers maintained a status quo of low releases after being told by the Brisbane City Council late on Sunday that higher releases would flood hundreds of low-lying homes.

Evidence in the flood event log points to the council's input influencing the release strategy on Sunday, January 9, when there was time to manage the flood. This will be seized on by insurers and flooded residents amid calls for the log to be closely scrutinised by a public inquiry.

Independent engineers and other experts examining the saga believe they can demonstrate to the royal commission-style inquiry that most of the flooding in Brisbane was caused by poor management early on and then massive sudden releases from the dam on Tuesday, January 11.

Senior independent engineer Michael O'Brien, who is compiling a submission for the inquiry headed by Supreme Court judge Cate Holmes, told The Australian last night: "It is clear from reading the flood event log that the flood operations centre knew as early as 7.15pm on Sunday, January 9, that much larger releases from Wivenhoe, of about 3000 cumecs, were required from as early as midnight and that this was important enough to notify the director of dam safety. But releases at this rate did not occur until 10am Tuesday, which by then was just too late. Even though the flood event log shows continuous discussions about the need for substantially increased release rates from this time, the discharge rates were increased too slowly."

The log entries reinforce the concerns of senior independent engineers and investigations by The Australian that much of the river flooding that destroyed thousands of homes occurred due to SEQWater's strategy to hold on to too much water in the dam.

Examination yesterday of the log entries and situation reports show that for most of January 10 the releases were kept between 1400 cumecs and 2000 cumecs - more than 30 per cent below the figure proposed by engineers the previous evening. By 6am the following morning, the dam was almost full, while the releases were still just 2750 cumecs. At 6pm that day, with SEQWater and Premier Anna Bligh gravely concerned that the dam was nearing its safe maximum capacity, the releases were increased to about 7500 cumecs and this resulted in most of the flooding.

Revelations in the log entries are not reflected in the main body of a newly released 1180-page report by SEQWater, which concludes the agency performed well in following the operating manual and the dam mitigated a worse flood. But the flood event log shows that at 7.15pm on January 9, an officer in the Flood Operations Centre "called SEQWater CEO Peter Borrows advising him that high rainfall is expected overnight and releases from Wivenhoe causing damaging flooding are likely to be necessary". A 7.15pm entry shows dam personnel called the director of dam safety to advise they were "now looking at much larger flows and will have to ramp up releases to around 3000 cubic metres per second by as early as midnight, which is likely to have flooding impacts on low-lying areas of Brisbane". Another entry five minutes later shows that "Engineer 2 called (Brisbane City Council) advising him of potential for high releases sooner than previously expected".

The entries show that after hearing from council that "3500 cumecs is the damaging flow level for Brisbane urban areas", the engineers in charge decided to keep releases from the dam at less than half the proposed rate, or just 1400 cumecs.

An entry in the earlier hours of January 10 documents an engineer's call to the dam operations manager "to discuss (council's) view on damaging flow. Engineer 3 confirmed that if flows were kept below 3500 the fuse plug would be triggered".

This 12.55am entry shows that at a relatively early stage, engineers knew a potentially disastrous outcome, a collapse of the auxiliary spillway or fuse-plug, could occur due to massive rainfall run-off unless releases immediately increased past 3500 cumecs.

Within 40 hours of this prediction, the rainfall and run-off had filled the dam to a level approaching the fuse-plug, resulting in the operators on the afternoon of January 11 ordering the release at 7500 cumecs.

SEQWater has a statutory requirement to operate Wivenhoe Dam independently and in accordance with an operating manual. The official report justifies SEQWater's decision to not release more water sooner by pointing to Bureau of Meteorology forecasts, which underestimated rainfall intensity.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology referred questions to the floods inquiry, ignoring assertions from SEQWater that the forecaster was responsible for inadequate rainfall warnings in the lead-up to the January floods.


Queensland teachers still chasing the class-size snark

CLASS sizes would be reduced to just 20 students in Prep to Year 3 under a proposal put forward by teachers to help lift literacy and numeracy standards.

The Queensland Teachers Union has warned the Bligh Government it needs to commit to smaller class sizes if it is serious about lifting student outcomes.

But the proposal conflicts with a controversial paper last year which warned reducing class sizes does little to improve the quality of education for children.

The QTU has made the latest proposal to claw back class sizes in their paper Securing Queensland's Future: A Resourcing Agenda for State Schools. The paper, which outlines a 10-year resourcing plan for state schools, suggests Prep to Year 3 class size maximums be "progressively" reduced to 20 students over five years as one of a series of "suggested initiatives". Education Queensland (EQ) currently sets a maximum class size target of 25 pupils for Prep to Year 3 , although up to 30 have been reported in Prep classrooms since 2009.

Last year, more than 10,000 Prep to Year 3 students were taught in overcrowded state school classrooms. "If the Government is really serious about improving literacy and numeracy outcomes, it should commit to a program of class size reduction, particularly in Years P-3", the QTU paper states. "Qualified teachers working with smaller classes in the early years of schooling are an effective way to achieve better student outcomes."

It says intensive student support programs and ongoing teacher professional development would also be needed for the class size reductions to work.

The paper comes less than six months after a Grattan Institute report warning reducing class sizes did little to improve the quality of education. Grattan Institute school education program director Dr Ben Jensen argued money was better spent on improving teacher effectiveness.

But QTU president Steve Ryan said state schools which had reduced class sizes using National Partnership funding had shown the initiative worked.

EQ director-general Julie Grantham said the QTU which has submitted its paper to the Government, had not raised the issue in any of their stakeholder meetings. She said class sizes were structured to meet targets agreed to by the QTU.


Government hospital on Thursday Island critically run-down and putting patients at risk

A PATIENT was forced to "ring a bell like Santa Claus" in a critically run-down far-north Queensland hospital, where emergency call systems had been broken for six months. Wayne Guivarra also told how all Thursday Island Hospital patients lay in "hot and sweaty" rooms because airconditioners had failed, while leaky roofs dripped water on to electrical equipment.

The hospital's dire state of disrepair was yesterday revealed as Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek tabled in State Parliament a report by director of nursing Terry Culleton, written in January.

It showed patient safety had been "severely compromised" since December, when leaking and bowed ceilings forced the closure of the region's only operating theatre and birthing facility with specialist capabilities for some emergency Caesareans.

The nurse call system was "totally beyond repair", with staff unable to call for help in emergencies and patients told to ring hand bells for assistance or use bedside telephones, some of which did not work.

The report also listed problems with buildings, including areas not properly electrically earthed, severely corroded structural steel and roofs, overcrowded work areas, rotting flooring and mildewed walls.

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Gay Hawksworth said the hospital was so run-down some patients had to be flown 850km to Cairns for treatment ordinarily given on the island. She said the 36-bed hospital, located "literally metres" from the sea, deteriorated far more quickly than city facilities and desperately needed an individualised maintenance schedule. "Once the deterioration occurs, you've then got the tyranny of distance, of getting material and then the right people up there," she said.

Mr Guivarra, a councillor from neighbouring Badu Island, stayed at the hospital two weeks ago, but said problems had gone unchecked for years. "We're doing nothing to save our people. It's just making the job harder for the medical professionals," he said.

A new hospital should be built at the larger Horn Island, because sick Torres Strait Islanders were flown there before being ferried to Thursday Island, he said.

New Health Minister Geoff Wilson has sent two senior Queensland Health staffers to investigate the matter. Yesterday, he said the operating theatre reopened on February 21 after "urgent works".


1 comment:

Paul said...

T I Hospital has been fairly recently refurbished, but all they say is true. Its right on the water (as is nearly everything on Thursday Island) and maintenance is made that much harder by distance. Everything has to be barged in. That said, everything DOES get barged in pretty regularly, and their is no reason to neglect what is actually a damn good little hospital. The Horn Island idea sounds good though because that's where the airstrip is and ferrying critical patients across from T I just to catch the Flying Doctor doesn't make much sense.