Friday, November 6, 2009

What the Library Was, Is, and Will Be

In “Bookless Libraries?Inside Higher Ed reports on a recent debate about the future of academic library buildings

Richard Luce, director of university libraries at Emory, made the important point that the history of academic libraries “has been marked by evolution”:
They were founded as places where materials were collected and stored. Then they shifted their focus toward connecting clients with resources. Then, with the addition of creature comforts such as coffee shops, they became "experience" centered, effectively rendering student unions obsolete.

“Now, in the fourth generation, we’re really seeing the library as a place to connect, collaborate, learn, and really synthesize all four of those roles together,” said Luce. “How do you do that without bricks and mortar?”

Libraries are older than institutions of higher education (and printed books). Many colleges, such as Harvard and Yale, started with a library. Over time, academic libraries have accommodated themselves to meet the needs of their parent institutions and they have evolved along with them. The provost of my institution recently gave a presentation on the pre-modern, modern, and postmodern development and nature of our undergraduate curricula. The institution’s library—its stuff, space, services, standards—is a reflection of that mixture of change and continuity. The library’s collections, locations, and functions will continue to evolve along with the institution’s teaching, learning, and research needs. 

Here is Robert Darnton, recently quoted in “Google v. Gutenberg,” on “bookless” libraries:
It’s naïve to think that all information is online. It’s also naïve to think that all information is in books, either,” he said. “I see this vast world of information in many different forms, and the notion that digital is going to encompass it all is just wrong-headed.
Image: Allen Reading Room, Penrose Library, Whitman College, about 15 minutes ago.