Burch Essay 2

ENGL 4874
James Collier
December 14, 2009
Essay Two

Is the Library Disappearing: The Reemergence of Library 2.0

This paper will explore the extent to which university libraries are evolving, from the physical book to the digital one. It will discuss the origin of the library and the role it plays in a university setting, in addition to the more recent changes seen throughout libraries in United States as well as other countries’ state and privately owned colleges, and lastly, discussion on how this will affect students and other academics in the future.

When a person tours a private or public university, often one of the fixed images they leave with is that of the university library. Traditionally it is seen as the center of the campus, where students can come to seek peace and quiet, or to collaborate on something for a class. While the building itself, and its primary purposes may still be intact, its contents are changing rapidly. Due to the heavy number of books and textual volumes found in libraries, with many more arriving each day, staff and administrators have now sought to look into alternatives. Two options seem promising, with implementation and approving results already. One is moving less frequently used materials to a storage facility, and the other is to go digital, putting specific types of information online for students to then access in a variety of ways.

With these changes also brings less on-site resources, less staffing, and certainly less funding. The question posed is how will this change the library on a university campus, which is often the go-to place for studying and group meetings? If materials can be accessed anywhere at anytime, will students opt out of going to the library altogether, and instead relinquish in the comfort of their own home?

The idea of the “mortar and brick” type building with rows and rows of books is the fixed image that comes to mind when thinking about a library, not so much an online database that holds Geoffrey Chaucer’s manuscript of The Canterbury Tales. In the 1600s and 1700s, when libraries were gaining popularity, they grew as “universities developed and as national, state-supported collections began to appear” (Krasner-Khait). Their popularity was based on the emergence of the information revolution, where people of high society wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible. Private libraries were also very common amongst those who could afford them. And the best way to show how much money and knowledge you had was evident by how many books you owned. They were the gateway to expanding the mind, and thus places for these to be held became vastly important. In an article from blogger Joshua Kim, from Inside Higher Ed, he states, “the history of the library is one of making what was once scarce (paper books) abundant” (Kim).

Universities sought to build up vast collections in their libraries in hopes of attracting “prominent scholars” (Searing 3), and since then, they have become an amazing tool for students during their years in school. There is an insanely abundant amount of available resources offered free to students enrolled at any said school. They can practically find out information on any topic needed, with knowledgeable people there to help them do so. Many databases and research programs that are extremely costly, where lay people would need a subscription to access, are free and easily attainable by students.

But now with such an influx of knowledge and information floating around, libraries are running into major issues finding places to hold not only their existing collections, but also all of the new texts that come in daily. As mentioned before two options have begun to be implemented into library systems. The first is moving certain sources to an outside storage facility where they can be brought back upon request. Syracuse University has begun the discussion of moving “rarely used or redundant text 250 miles southeast of campus, to a storage facility” (Epstein). The reason for the long distance is due to monetary limitations; they are getting a much cheaper rate having it housed there. However, students and faculty are not pleased with this alternative. They feel the option to move it nearly four hours away does not make them feel comfortable. Upon request, people of the university will receive the book the following day, but they think it’s too far away from the university to hold possible important resources. Lori Goetsch from Kansas State University explains that there is “often a higher comfort level when the books aren’t too far away” (Epstein).

The second option, which seems more promising, is to move much of the textual resources into a digital library. Not only is this being implemented on university campuses, this is trend everywhere. Digitalizing text is a current topic of controversy among the academic and business world. The reason for such controversy is that some worry physical books will become extinct far too quickly if we start digitalizing, in addition to the notion of price. Many times when things get put up on the Internet, their value becomes next to nothing because we want things from the Web to be free. This new phenomenon attracting many is the concept of “e-books”, downloadable books that cost usually about ten dollars that may be accessed from a mirage of places. The kindle, an electronic reader created by Amazon, allows buyers to download a book and have it contained in a digital library on their own personal kindle. Other companies, like Sony, are making software that allows library patrons to download the books in the same fashion as the kindle; however, they are free. Public libraries, as well as university libraries, are allowing people to “take out a book”, just in a digital sense of the word. They must punch in their personal library card number, then given only a certain length of time to keep the book, and if the book is already in use by other, you must wait, much like at a regular library. The specifications are the same; there simply is no physical book.

With everything, there are advantages and disadvantages to this concept of digitalizing the library. Some advantages include allowing the reader the accessibility to be anywhere while wanting to read a certain text. Often times, scientific collegiate textbooks are enormous, weighing close to fifteen pounds, so having the flexibility of being able to read a chapter in a biology textbook while riding the bus to school is a huge convenience. In addition, while now prices are high, eventually textbooks may lower in price due to the lack of print costs. Also, in lieu of the world’s trend to move towards an environmentally Earth, making books and texts digital forgoes all the wasted resources that come with printing books, sometimes with new editions coming out every year. Another advantage to the digital library allows for old manuscripts to be preserved and kept in the best possible condition. Instead, these may be put online for viewers to read, while the originals stay put in a safe environment. Lastly, an advantage that is personal to this university is the Virginia Tech 4-16-07 Archive of University Libraries. After the tragedies, an overflow of physical items came pouring into this university. A team of people came up with the idea of creating a database that holds all of the items received that can also be viewed anytime by anyone. Something like this allows for a memorial to stay available even after the artifacts fall apart.

Some worry that once books and texts are placed on the Web, libraries will become just as extinct as the books they hold. Richard Luce, director of university libraries at Emory University writes, “The library still is, and will continue to be, the centerpiece of a campus” (Kolowich), and that is the important part. While the building is likely to downsize, rather than expand, once many texts are moved to the digital world, libraries will still be a place for people to meet and connect academically. Luce goes on to say that libraries are ever changing, and their history has gone through many steps, from being a place “where materials were collected and stored” to a place where people could be connected to certain resources. And with the addition of cafes and coffee shops, libraries have now become a place to congregate, to socialize with your fellow students, rather than a place for safekeeping books. In another article by Steve Kolowich from Inside Higher Ed, titled “Libraries of the Future”, Deborah Jakubs states that libraries are taking on new roles to include, “working with faculty in introducing technology into teaching” (Kolowich). Librarians today are not just trained on the Dewey decimal system; they are learning to teach the integration of technology and education to professors and faculty.

But how is this going to affect students and faculty alike in the university setting? In the end, people will adapt. People have been able to adapt to all sorts of new technologies, and this too will be possible. There will be, as there already has been shown, some resistance to digitalizing books and other forms of media. But from a logically and economical standpoint, storing in some type of digital library just makes sense.

Works Cited

Epstein, Jennifer. “A Win for the Stacks.” Inside Higher Ed. 13 Nov 2009.
<http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/11/13/syracuse>. 13 Dec 2009.

Kim, Joshua. “Library Design.” Inside Higher Ed. 10 Sept 2009.
<http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/library_design>.
13 Dec 2009.

Kolowich, Steve. “Libraries of the Future.” Inside Higher Ed. 24 Sept 2009.
<http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/24/libraries>. 13 Dec 2009.

Kolowich, Steve. “Bookless Libraries?” Inside Higher Ed. 6 Nov 2009.
<http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/11/06/library>. 13 Dec 2009.

Krasner-Khait, Barbara. “Survivor: The History of the Library.” History Magazine.
Oct/Nov 2001. < http://www.history-magazine.com/libraries.html>. 13 Dec 2009.

Searing, Susan E. “The “librarian’s library” in transition from physical to virtual place: A
case study of the Library & Information Science Library at the University of
Illinois, USA.” IFLA Pre-conference, Libraries as Space and Place, Torino, August
19-21, 2009. < http://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/13765/Searing
TheLibrariansLibrary%5b1%5d.doc.pdf?sequence=4>.

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