Maybe, just maybe, Drexel University is on to something big. According to a recent article in Time magazine, they got rid of the books. That’s right. All of them. I don’t know how old you are, but when we were kids, books were synonymous with libraries. So, what do they have instead of books? Electronics, movable furniture and white-board walls. It’s located in the center of the residential area of campus.
One thing–it isn’t the major library. It isn’t even half or a quarter. It’s a tiny piece of the library–it can accommodate only 75 students in a school with full time enrollment of 10,000. Drexel University Librarians, like all of us in the library world, want to give patrons the best possible service. In some instances, that means enabling both individual research and collaborative group projects. The ‘ Learning Terrace‘, as it is called, is a way to give students who live on campus a space that is no-cost, up-to-date, and staffed with professional knowledge ‘concierge’–not a term they use, but it makes sense in this context–to facilitate their doing well in school. That’s what this is all about, for every academic librarian–making sure students have the best access available to the materials they will need to get their work done.
Which brings us to another point–this is why the UMA libraries are not getting rid of books wholesale. Yes, we do replace out of date materials with newer ones, as appropriate (science, business, tech, etc.), but our students aren’t Drexelians (another made up word, but we think it fits). They are Mainers. They live in one of the most rural states in the country, where inter library loan waiting time is only three days–about the same amount of time it would take to download an e-book on dial-up. Which is what they have in many, many cases. Getting wi-fi isn’t easily done in many places up here, and those that can and do choose to afford it are likely already college graduates.
There isn’t anything wrong with technology, on the surface at least, if it is applied judiciously and with thought. We would never accuse Drexelians of having ‘too much money’ for resources–but we are conscious of the barriers our students face when even attempting to enroll. The University of Maine at Augusta has always been a pioneer in the field of distance education–we just do it in a way that works for us. We would never impose our model on anyone, as it likely wouldn’t work as well as it does for us.
Libraries are like gardens–each one has a different climate and soil it has to deal with, and the demands placed on it will form the future health of that particular land. From where we sit, amongst the vast swaths of pine trees and still lack of (some are very, very grateful) billboards, we like things just the way they are, thank you very much.
But as for Drexel’s “Bookless Library”–remember to read the fine print. They are not book-less. Not if you count the millions of ‘real’ books in their libraries.