To Warehouse or not to warehouse?

January 17, 2010 | Neeru Khosla
The old Roosevelt warhouse on the edge of Corktown has the aura of a graveyard.  It’s as if this is the place where knowledge went to die.
Detroit Public school warehouse fire
Thus read the editorial story of the Detroit Public school Textbook depository that was abandoned after a fire on the third floor of the building on March 4th, 1987.  The building was sold as is with all the books, many in their original wrapping.  The official estimate of damage was estimated at several millions of dollars for the content alone. Not at all clear how many millions of dollars.
According to Reginald Ciokajlo, then superintendent of support services, the district was lucky that most of that year’s textbooks and materials had already been delivered and none of the prinicipals had placed their orders for the next year’s textbooks.  School and student records going back to 1918 were destroyed.
It dawned on me that there is another world in content production that we don’t often think about.  For the buying institutes there are more issues than just buying and adoption of the content.  This world involves – large expensive spaces to “house” textbooks, people to manage the processes involved, ensuring that we have redundancy in textbook orders – just in case…….. These kinds of requirements add another huge dimension to the cost of our education system.
How many of us think about all these things? What is the reason for such redundancy?

Shelves for books for subject and grade level
How much money are we going to accept as spending for “redundancy”? “How could this have happen?” “Because of the fire how many children had gone without textbooks in the city?”
You may argue that this is a rare event that it does not happen very often.  However, this example still gives us food for thought.  It is unbelievable that, although our dependence on print may not go away, we do not take avail of the technologies that allow us to create redundancies that afford us protection from such disasters.
One can argue that there are weaknesses on both sides – the books can be destroyed easily; computers have their own problems – what happens when the computer crashes or the light goes out. It is by far easier to provide redundancy in an online system rather than the paper-based solution.  For that reason alone we have to get our content online.