Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Long Live The Print Book!

Slate ran an article about the transition to a book-less library and what it means for the heart of the academic institution. Colby College in Maine moved "170,000 of its books to storage, to make room for sumptuous new administrative offices." This prompted the author of the article to ask if this still counts as a library?

In response to the move, concerned faculty wrote an impassioned open letter stating that the library is "no longer 'a place for reflection and deep thought, research and scholarship,' but rather merely 'a waiting room' sans books and a reference librarian, and surrounded by temples to the new gods of the American university?"

"The Colby case is but one example of a widespread move to re-appropriate library space in the age of digitization. From the University of Nebraska to the University of Edinburgh, from the University of Nevada–Las Vegas to Kent State, knowledge repositories the world over may soon have to change their names, because the liber will be increasingly hard to come by."

This is bottom-dollar thinking, and "[w]e must also save the stacks because books are the best—perhaps the only—bastions of contemplative intellectual space in the world."

"Some studies show, for now, that online reading creates worse readers—that there is no replacement (yet) for the wonder of browsing" a book collection. These "intangibles are both vitally important to the university experience and irreplaceable digitally—for now."

A lot of the problem is that "[students] have to be forced to research in books [even if the book is the "best" resource on a particular topic]. Professional scholars, on the other hand, already know how to perform a sophisticated search (or to ask a librarian for assistance), and can often have books pulled and delivered, so even we rarely walk into the stacks."

As the library continues to be underused in today's academic climate and "more of the books disappear from college libraries, the people in charge of funding those libraries will be more tempted to co-opt that space for events that bring in revenue, or entice students for the wrong reasons: food courts. gaming lounges."

Not only is the scholarly feeling and contemplative heart of the academic institution at stake, "[t]here’s also the small matter that you only have to buy a book once; digital resources are licensed, and their prices increase every year."

As the author of the Slate article put it, "SAVE OUR STACKS!"

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