A Bookless Library?

According to The Boston Globe, Cushing Academy has moved to embracing a digital future and away from their print counterpart (20,000 volumes?). They are among one of the first institutions to remove printed materials from their libraries.

At this point in time, there is simply too much info that is not available online. In time, as materials are born digitally and continue to exist digitally, there may come a day years down the road when the majority of a library collection is digital. However, if I were a prospect student, I personally would not want to attend an institution that has a purely electronic access. I also would not want to be in the shoes of the administrator who made this bad decision. In the end, the institution may discover that print material is really still needed, and it will be expensive to replace.

What really bothers me is what kind of message does this send to students? It says that electronic access is more important and valued more than print. It also insinuates that in-depth research (searching for the best information in both print and electronic formats) is not important, and whatever you find online is “good enough.”

There are a lot of benefits to a print collection, and a lot of questions that arise from the decision to go digital:
– Access to unique print materials (available in few other places or perhaps nowhere else)
– Reliability of print (can’t be easily changed, and it is there even when there are power failures or technical difficulties)
– Departmental and Institutional Accreditation (how to get accreditation if access to info no longer is available?)
– Competition from peer institutions that have a real physical library
– Ability to borrow print materials from other institutions (relying on other institutions to fill huge collection gaps)
– Not all information is online
– Would an institution really pay a second time just to have electronic access? Unless there is a specific need for e-access, this would be a tremendous waste of money (you essentially purchase duplicate materials). There is a case to migrate your collection to electronic access over time as new e-books come out, but to simply get rid of the print collection…

ALA’s Executive Director, Keith Michael Fiels, was quoted in the article as saying,

Unless every student has a Kindle and an unlimited budget, I don’t see how that need is going to be met… Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power. When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book.’

Several other librarians have joined the discussion of this move, such as Jessamyn West, Linda Braun, Rory Litwin, and Buffy Hamilton.

Read the original article in The Boston Globe.

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About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on September 10, 2009, in Libraries and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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