Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Disquietly quiet here - I actually applied my bottom to my seat for enough uninterrupted time to eat my lunch (Kashi Lemongrass Coconut Chicken) while it remained hot from first to last bite!

So, I took the bit of time to catch up on the blogs I "follow." This post on Savage Minds caught my eye: "Are pdf's immoral?"

I hope not. I could say I think not, but that might just be me justifying what I will characterize as a practice that is rather familiar to me.

I will add that in the past, I tried instructing students on how to run their own searches on JSTOR - esp. for recent articles that were not found in edited volumes or readers that I might have required them to purchase - and download the PDF's as individuals.

It was kind of a disaster: I had students claim to me that they "could not find" the articles I had assigned or that the instructions were confusing or that they had a hard time reading the article on their computers or that they had run up their print quota. Blah blah blah.


Call me naive, but I think when students do not purchase their books (and when they do, they do not retain them, but resell them to the used book sellers...), it is simply b/c they do not value them (i.e., they do not consider them worth buying). I know: Duh. Frankly, as I look at some of the textbooks and readers and their price tags that I have even in my own office, I find it hard to argue. Some of the books just are not that good and almost all of them are cost far too much for what they are. I doubt that students see themselves as paying for CD ROMs or Web content or so on, which I think they value even less.

The contrasting example is when students really come to admire, even love, a book: In previous semesters of ANTH 100, I assigned Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which it seems like every semester, at least one student tells me that they "loved it so much" that they are "keeping it." When I assigned Emily Martin's Bipolar Expeditions, a student told me me bought an additional copy of the book for a friend whom he thought should read it.


So, I do not think it is just that PDFs being "free" devalues the worth of scholarly publications. I think it is the context in which the PDFs become circulated: If a student is taking ANTH 100 b/c it seems like the least worse class to take for a gen ed requirement need to graduate at the end of that semester, then I probably should not be surprised that being required to purchase books, or even go through the rigamarole of having to locate and download PDFs from JSTOR for myself, might seem like a colossal waste of money, time, and effort for that student. I think we reasonably could expect the student to skip it. In which case, making PDFs freely accessible also seems a reasonable response, from the perspective of a professor...

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