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To Books or Not to Books, That Is the Question…

The New York Times has an article entitled, “College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age,” that describes how books are being displaced by computers in college libraries. I’m sure this trend will be a central part of the design debate for the Stetson addition.

Some quotes from the article:

“In this information-seeking America, I can’t think of anyone who would elect to build a books-only library,” said Fred Heath, vice provost of the University of Texas Libraries in Austin.

Students at Texas, interviewed as they studied or lounged at the library tables, said that they would welcome extra computer space and that they got most of their books anyway at the far larger Perry-Castaņeda Library. But some said they liked the popular selection at the undergraduate library and feared the loss of a familiar and congenial space. “Well, this is a library – it’s supposed to have books in it,” said Jessica Zaharias, a senior in business management. “You can’t really replace books. There’s plenty of libraries where they have study rooms. This is a nice place for students to come to. It’s central in campus.”

“The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared,” said Geneva Henry, executive director of the digital library initiative at Rice University in Houston, where anyone can access and augment course materials in a program called Connexions. “It’s having a conversation rather than homing in on the book.”

Carole Wedge, president of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, an architecture firm in Boston that has redesigned dozens of college libraries for the computer age, said most were built “as boxes to house print collections.” The challenge, Ms. Wedge said, is to adapt them to what she called “the Barnes & Noble culture, making reading and learning a blurred experience.”

“This is a new generation, born with a chip,” said Frances Maloy, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries and leader of access services at Emory. “A student sends an e-mail at 2 a.m. and wonders by 8 a.m. why the professor hasn’t responded.”

While my family is pretty “digital” — between the three of us, we own 3 PDAs, 3 laptops, and 2 desktops — we also own 3,000+ books. There’s something pleasantly visceral about flipping through the pages of a book that you just don’t get reading an e-Book. I’d hate to think of buying fewer books just because digital books are also available. (Of course, I’m reading for pleasure, not researching.)

So to get back to the Stetson issue, how should the college split the space? 80% books/20% computers? 50/50?