Fewer books, more space: US universities remodel libraries for current learning needs
As the nature of college work today evolves to one that requires more space for students to study, recharge and work together on group projects, school's libraries are now taking measures to free up more space. Source: Shutterstock

There’s a revolution going on in American libraries. Shelves, books and other physical materials are being replaced with digital ones to keep up with today’s student demands, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Students welcome this new era of libraries, though schools had to fight hard to bring the changes about, such as in the moving of print content online or making it available via interlibrary loans instead.

“It’s the wave of the future,” Curtis T. McMullen, a math professor at Harvard, said of digital learning.

“The idea of research in a library is becoming archaic, versus Googling on the Internet. Maybe they’re not accessing the best information with what comes up on Google, but people are used to finding things on the Internet.”

For Ted Xiao, a graduate student at University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley), these changes to the “old and musty” Moffitt Library are great for him.

Once a rare visitor, he now comes often for meetings with his classmates where they can brainstorm while eating snickerdoodles and drinking milk tea. The university no longer has rules against bringing food and drinks to its top two floors, which have now been remodeled with couches, a nap pod and meeting spaces with glass walls that can be written on.

Xiao, who has never looked for physical books at Moffitt, say everything he needs is now online.

“I’ve never checked one out. I can’t honestly say I even know how.” he said.

Sentiments like these worry those who are pro-print. While online access or interlibrary loans are fine for those who know what they want and need, they don’t offer the experience of browsing physical materials for ideas.

“You walk into a space that used to be a library and it’s empty,” Richard Montgomery, a UC Santa Cruz maths professor, said. “It’s horrible. It’s like death.”

As well as going digital, space is equally as prominent in the remodeling of US varsities’ remodeling.

As the nature of college work today evolves to one that requires more space for students to study, recharge and work together on group projects, school’s libraries are now taking measures to free up more space to accommodate this.

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), an entire floor in the Charles E. Young Research Library was reconfigured to fit in more open seating, group study rooms and collaboration pods with LCD monitors.

Meanwhile at UC Berkeley – California’s oldest public university – 135,000 books have been moved to other locations to make room for these new spaces.

At UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, students took charge to question the relevance and use of “library filled with dusty books no one looks at” when they struggle to find a study space, according to Hilary Schiraldi, the business school librarian.

Now, the library spends 95 percent of its budget on online materials while printed archives of stock prices, annual reports and directories of corporate officers turn obsolete.

E-books are seen as more environmentally-friendly as well, according to Suren Dias, an anthropology senior who works in the business library.

“The collections lost their purpose,” Schiraldi said. “It was time to move to a digital library.”

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