Whither the Library:

For centuries, the physical library has been a consistent fixture on college campuses.  Often clad in a foreboding architecture, its floors are heavily reinforced to handle the extreme weight of stacked volumes and the shelving that supports them.  Climate control, carts piloted by “reshelvers,” interlibrary loan specialists, reference librarians, department heads and various other people tend to populate the places.  Oh, and somebody tries to keep the students quiet.

I recall a listing of qualifications for a new President, purportedly crafted by the official search committee.  A characteristic that made the cut was for someone, “loathe to reduce the library acquisition budget.” (Makes you understand why corporations go out and find their leaders while higher ed uses committees.)

Acquisition is one thing; Access another.  With electronic media taking the world by storm, the days of the physical book may be limited.  The benefit, of course, will be access to more volumes than any one institution could possibly accumulate.  And, there wouldn’t be any sort of a wait for a book sourced from an interlibrary system participant.

Indeed, while a helpful librarian would continue to assist users in a particular place, the library need not be constrained by walls either.  The adult learner and everyone who takes online classes can benefit from much more efficient search methods, even creating the virtual 3X5 card from a quote, along with a proper citation and the ability to insert it within a research paper with ease.  As I reflect on my papers of 35 years ago, a sense of unfairness turns to envy.  Nonetheless, access may no longer be a constraint for any library – and learning may actually be the beneficiary.

So, in light of this situation, why couldn’t the university library be shared by communities, K-12 schools, colleges and other universities?  Imagine the savings.  Maybe this Texas library is on to something.  Or, maybe it is just an early adopter of what will be the norm in five years. 

Stay tuned.

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