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U Texas Austin Moving Books Out, Digital Access In

:: Interesting article in the May 13 2004 edition of NYTimes. Called "College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age", the author, Ralph Blumenthal, writes that the University of Texas at Austin plans to disperse most of its Undergraduate Library's 90,000 volumes to collections elsewhere on campus, later this summer. In their place will be a 24 hour information commons, that will include "software suites" and centres for writing instruction and computer training, assistance and repair.

Such digital learning laboratories, staffed with Internet-expert librarians, teachers and technicians, have been advancing on traditional college libraries since appearing at the University of Southern California in 1994. As more texts become accessible online, libraries have been moving lesser-used materials to storage. But experts said it was symbolic for a top educational institution like Texas to empty a library of books.

The trend is being driven, academicians and librarians say, by the dwindling need for undergraduate libraries, many of which were built when leading research libraries were reserved for graduate students and faculty. But those distinctions have largely crumbled, with research libraries throwing open their stacks, leaving undergraduate libraries as increasingly puny adjuncts with duplicate collections and shelves of light reading.

On my campus, we dispersed our undergraduate library collection amongst the other major subject collections some 12-15 years ago, for a number of reasons, including the need to free up space for the second largest map collection in Canada. The difference here is that U Texas Austin's UG collection will not be replaced with a different set of books, but with computers. It will be interesting to see how the librarians and associate staff are redeployed in the new environment.

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