Last week the University of Denver revealed to faculty that after a proposed $32 million dollar transformation, the campus library will no longer house 80% of the library’s holdings in favor of creating more space for students to gather and study. The last minute decision to permanently store the majority of the library’s little-used books and journals has spurred a serious debate on the university campus with social science professors who are up in arms over the removal of much needed materials, especially for students taking humanities courses.
The University of Denver is not alone in making this radical change in the function of campus library space. In 2009, Syracuse University announced that it would be removing seldom-used, printed materials from its Carnegie Library after the completion of a major renovation of the space. While the University of Colorado faculty has been less vocal than that of Syracuse University, the major complaint remains the same: is the student discovery process hampered by an inability to reference “printed” materials?
With the wealth of journals and resource materials found in digital format, in addition to the accessibility of humanities-related materials on the internet, the move away from a campus library laden with actual books seems like a foreseeable change. But again, it is the process of student discovery that has most professors concerned. One professor from the University of Denver, in reference to her personal library experiences, noted stumbling upon several additional books when conducting library research as a common occurrence. While this experience might not be shared by the average college student, it’s not to say this type of discovery doesn’t occur with students searching the internet when researching a variety of topics. To analyze the number and frequency of links clicked by a student conducting research in digital journals would suggest that the inevitable discovery of new resources and exposure to new knowledge is not limited to experiences with printed materials in a campus library. Though it’s unclear whether there is data support this, it might be entirely possible that, with the immediacy of the internet, research conducted using digital materials exposes students to a greater quantity and variety of resources it would take hours upon hours to discover in a library setting.
It seems likely the debate about the inevitable discovery of knowledge linked to research conducted with print-versus-digital resource materials will continue as the renovation at University of Denver is completed and more universities seek to transform library space from a facility for intensive research to a facility for studying and social learning. It is certain that most universities will be faced with a similar decision of adapting the campus library to an area that meets the needs of a tech-savvy student who conducts research on the internet or to maintain the status quo at the request of faculty who prefer student research to be done using printed resources. With the availability of digital journals and resources expanding, campus populations booming, and many universities finding space to be at a premium, it appears as though the future of the campus library may not include books.
Are you a student or faculty member? How would you feel about your campus library removing printed books and journals in favor of creating an “academic commons” like the University of Denver?