Monday, 28 May 2012

Is the text-book obsolete as a source of reference?

I ask this question as Elsevier are keen to produce an 8th edition of Mineral Processing Technology (MPT) and I have my doubts as to whether this is a good idea or not.

The 7th edition was an update on the 6th, and was admirably edited by Prof. Tim Napier-Munn and his staff at the JKMRC in Australia. It was a complete revision, not only of the references, but also of the content, highlighting new equipment such as stirred mills and very large flotation machines.

But a new edition of this begs the question- what is the role of the text-book in this age of Google, Wikipedia etc. Should a text-book be revised merely to bring the references up to date?

My feeling is that the primary role of MPT is to provide students of minerals engineering and associated disciplines, as well as practitioners in these areas, with an overview of the fundamentals of mineral processing, rather than to be used as a source of reference.

For instance, Froth Flotation is the largest chapter in the book, and nearly 10% of the page space is taken up with the reference list. I feel fairly confident that anyone wishing to learn about the principles of flotation, its uses, the machines, reagents and circuits would be well advised to start with the book, as a Google search of Froth Flotation identifies a bewildering 311,000 references, including an unsatisfactory Wikipedia review. However for anyone wishing to learn more about a specific reagent or machine, then Google would probably be used to provide references much more current than those found in the book’s reference list.

So times have changed, and so has the role of text-books. The 1st edition of MPT was published in 1979, but still provides a good introduction to the fundamentals of mineral processing. Successive editions did introduce new machines and processes and the increasing use of computers, but their main role was to update the lists of references. I wonder if this is necessary any more?


  1. Comments from the Minerals Enginners Group (

    Naomi McSweeney • If the only reason for updating the text book is to update the reference list, then I do feel that text books are obsolete. They are a great place to start and to learn basic principles. I normally use them as a starting point to find more current references. A good review article is likely to compete with text book sections as well.

    Bertil Pålsson • At Luleå University of Technology (LTU) we value Wills' MPT as an excellent introduction to mineral processing. In my view, all fields need a good comprehensive source to the basics, and MPT certainly is this. You may find alternative sources, but they are either too old or not written in English.

    Willem de klerk • Is the latest edition text book available electronically?

    Barry Wills • Hi Willem. Yes it is. You can download the book, or individual chapters, on ScienceDirect at It is also available on Kindle:

    Willem de klerk • thank you very much!!

    DK Satpathy • Text books are essentials to know the basics and latest development in different areas . There should be also references to to latest industries practices.

    Anatoliy Guryev • An interesting issue in terms of differences from Russian textbooks. Adequately covers the basics of mineral processing.
    thank you very much!

    Anand Katti • Text Book are source of basics and review is essential with respect new developments in research and industrial practice.

    James Rowe • Although a well written literature review can easily substitute for a textbook chapter access to journals is often out of the reach of those in industry, either due to the difficult in justifying the cost of an ongoing subscription, or simply a lack of reliable internet connection (or mail deliveries). Physical textbooks still have a place for the simple reason that the information is always available and easily accessible. Things may change as ebook readers evolve, but they are still a long way from having that same ability to easily bookmark, make notes in the margin, and throw at plant operators that a book offers. Of course the biggest mistake is to assume that the basic theory never changes, and never needs to be revised.

    Henry Simonsen • Mineral Processing Technology, back in 1979, was probably written for mining engineering undergrads and is an excellent introduction to the subject. For more depth, for mineral processing engineers, Introduction to Mineral Processing by Kelly and Spottiswood was a possible alternative. ("Was" because mineral processing, as a distinct profession, appears to be in decline.) Specialist books such as The Hydrocyclone by Bradley, Flotation by Gaudin, Extraction Metallurgy of Gold, Ed. by Stanley and Extraction Metallurgy of Uranium by Merrit, are now, probably, more suitable for electronic communication. Kindles are fine but can you fish one out of a Pachuca, dry it in the sun and use again. Text books don't require electricity (not a given in some parts of the world) and are usually annoted, over time, to become personal aids. They also come in handy for keeping flying fauna out of cups of coffee. However, my much thumbed fifth edition of MPT will probably be replaced by a collection os 0's and 1's.

    K.H.M.Reddy Reddy • MPT is a good book for basic information,review of the book with advanced technology will help the readers

    Barry Wills • The reluctance to produce an 8th edition is also due to a lack of motivation on my part! The 7th edition was edited by myself and the admirable JKMRC team, led by the then Director, Tim-Napier-Munn.
    In order to produce an updated 8th edition I would need a team as dedicated and professional as the last one, and that may be hard to find. A suitable individual would be very hard to find, as the days of the ‘all-rounder’ seem to have long gone, and everyone is a specialist these days.

    1. Jocelyn Bouchard • I agree with the general principles of Barry's initial comment. MPT is useful to cover the basics of mineral processing, which do not evolve at a fast pace. This being said, reediting it every 5-10 years would probably be advised to avoid progressively loosing all the time and effort put over the years. There will always be a need for an up to date introductory textbook on mineral processing.

      Laurie Tahija • I prefer a book that I can write notes in, bookmark, highlight, etc. I agree with the need to keep them updated. As stated earlier - there is a lack of all around experience and common sense. A book with the basics AND with some 'rules-of-thumb' for design, etc. would be very useful in this day and age.
      I would offer to be part of the team but I may not have the experience you need.

      Robert Seitz • MPT is a great reference to provide those entering the world of mineral processing - from whatever academic background (even metallurgy since few schools provide much background in grinding or flotation, for example). The fact is people need to develop basic understanding of the fundamentals & this is probably the best place for them to start. Lacking this reference, we're asking people to rediscover & learn by chance. MPT provides a path around that.

      Peter Steckis • Barry,
      I agree with others that if you are only updating references then "why would ya"? Things change in our business so quickly that you would always be doing updates. But in my opinion the basics have not changed and these are more than adequately covered in your text. (I still have mine among my reference books). I'd suggest that unless there is a pressing need where a lot has changed there may not be a great benefit. I also agree with you that the Google etc is useful only for the more specific items such as reagent and equipment selections, etc where you can search out the suppliers of these items. That ability these days is very useful I have found.
      Best regards

      John O'Callaghan • Interesting question Barry
      Maybe my Google search skills are lacking but whenever I try to find something even remotely specialised on the net I often come up blank and invariably head back to Perrry (Chem Eng handbook) or some of my metallurgy textbooks for some direction at least. So to me there is still very much a place for textbooks whether physical or electronic as a reference source.

      Megan Becker • I think the text book still plays a very strong role in undergraduate education. Yes, students should be encouraged to use internet sources, but the text book still serves as a basic source of fundamental and accredited knowledge. I think more focus in the future though should be on making text books available as e-books instead of lugging heavy card copies of books around.

      Henry Simonsen • How about an update of Taggart's Handbook?

      DK Satpathy • Taggart is a standard book for reference. It will be good to update the same .

      Tinah Phiri • MPT is a great book for basic knowledge in mineral processing. I always recommend it for my undergraduate students. I pray that WILLS will find well capable, qualified and experienced individual to help Him in updating it. Looking forward to the new version of MPT.

  2. My brother recently bought a business selling textbooks - a totally disaster.

    Unfortunately textbooks are on the way out.

    One of the main errors society is making is the assumption that IT advances are increasing knowledge. I think the reality is that fundamental knowledge is being lost.

    So I would hope you can retain MPT as a texbook, but might be hard to justify on basic commercial arguments.

  3. Related to the above (losing technology). Read the history of the abacus (and decimal currency). They were used in the period of the Romans, but then lost to European commerce for over 1000 years, making a comeback after some knowledge transfer from the Chinese and Japanese via Russia.

    Hence I certainly think that the discontinuation of technical books is a major concern.


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