Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Academic Library Buildings

 Bradford pear, on campus. It looks much prettier in person.

It's possible I have been reading too much technology news, but these days I'm feeling pessimistic about the future of academic library buildings. (Note that I'm specifically talking about academic library buildings, which I believe have far less of a role as community centers and gathering places than public library buildings.)

A library building is the kind of thing that people love to support in theory, but it is expensive to properly maintain both a print collection that justifies the space as well as an electronic collection. I wonder if a college that was to be built tomorrow would include a library building when online access to digital collections is starting to make coming to the college library unnecessary. I know the latter is a good thing, and I know I should feel optimistic about what our online services and collections enable people to do. On certain days I'm really excited about what's going on with digital libraries - look at this, for example - but as someone who has always enjoyed library buildings, I also feel wistful. Yet, as overwhelming as the shift from a print world to a digital world can be, it does seem like progress. Technology promises progress for many endeavors, and often it does not deliver, but in searching for, acquiring, and storing information, the benefits are clear.

But if we don't have to use academic library buildings, and if we remove the physical presence of libraries from a campus, the next logical step is to whittle down the library's collection budget and pass the fees for subscriptions to students. And then where would we be?

Perhaps some national digital library would spring up, with a netflix-like model that students and researchers could subscribe to a month at a time and customize as needed. Is this is WorldCat's vision? Or is this subscription google?

1 comment:

  1. I doubt that Middle States would look too kindly on colleges attempting to do away with library buildings. As progressive as the accreditation process might be, I think that the library space and size of the print collection are still things they scrutinize.