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Monday, February, 21, 2011

Are Libraries Doomed?

A couple of weeks ago, we posed a question about the allegedly impending death of academic libraries and suggested that SCUPers share their thoughts on the issue in SCUP's LinkedIn group. Several did. It was an interesting thread to watch. We summarize it here, and encourage further discussion. We think there's more to say.

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Summary, So Far, on 'Doomed' Libraries - join in the continuing discussion on LinkedIn

Chris Whitney of URS Corporation, who was the chair of last fall's SCUP North Central regional conference in Cincinnati, shared the term he uses for where some libraries are headed: "Intellectual Recreation Centers":

These buildings are often campus icons as as such will transform into what I call "Intellectual Recreation Centers." Sort of the Senate Buildings of Old Rome. where people will go to debate, reflect and expound on the topics of the day. We see this in adding conference rooms, access to equipment like projection systems and Internet based networking through video conferences. My guess is the next generation of human interaction on campus will anchor in these places. Though true much can be done from a laptop in a residence hall, face to face teamwork, will always have a value and need a place on the campus.

Laurence Steel of Denver City Restorations noted some of the negative impact the Internet has had on libraries, and then shared some of challenges he thinks campus libraries face in their future work to maintain relevance:

    • Many libraries have lost the capacity to train students in effective library usage.

    • Faculty members will not take their classes to the library to receive the orientations that are available.

    • Administrators think that the internet provides student with free resources that are all equally valid and are academically vetted. Thus saving the institution untold millions of scarce budget dollars.

    • There is a belief that every important book or journal article is available online -- for free.

    • Students assume that if it is in print (online) it must be so.

    • Academic librarians and their supporters within the academic departments either do not have, or are unwilling to expend, the political capital to fight to maintain hard copies of important written works and to invest in subscriptions to all of the necessary online journals.

Randy Tritz of Shen Milsom & White agreed with Whitney's observations and shared his recent observations working in an evolving city library:

We recently worked on a city library that has been evolving and it was fantastic to see how busy this place was... late nights, weekends, weekdays... any time the place was open. They had people in most every possible space with the exception of the stacks.... meeting rooms, viewing rooms, family movie theatre, general collaboration rooms, etc.... Its not coming... its here!

Todd Nebraska of Bread Loaf Corporation noted that a key in facilities development for libraries is to build flexibility into any improvements: You never know what's going to be done in that space in 10 years.

Patrick Calhoun sees students perceiving the academic library of the future as a portal:

to useful, scholarly application of knowledge. Reference librarians cannot provide individual bibliographic instruction to all students, but can arm the faculty with the basic tools (after all, they do reach all the students) and remain available to mentor students individually or in groups in appropriate use of resources (online and vintage) and how to apply those in a scholarly way. I imagine future librarians less as the gatekeepers to knowledge and more as guides on the journey.

The internet hasn't yet killed the college Performing Arts Center...

Then Terry Calhoun (not related) from SCUP staff noted the following, about that performing arts center: "But spend just a moment considering Virtual Dance - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_dance - and - Wii Fit - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wii_fit - and the Kinect - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinect."

So what do you think?

  • Got more to share about the future of the academic library?
  • Do you think the performing arts center might be facing the same need for relevance?
  • Are there any other parts of campus, that we don't even think of in that way, that might face major transformation in the next 10 years?
  • Is the campus itself endangered?
  • What libraries do you see "doing the right thing"?

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