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College Libraries Facing the Challenge of Adapting for Students and Technology

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College libraries were once the only place on campus where students could conduct thorough research for term papers and research projects. Browsing the card catalog and hitting the stacks were ordinary habits for most college students, and so was asking a librarian for assistance should problems arise.

Thanks to the internet and other technological advances, not to mention budget cuts, college and university libraries—along with public libraries—are being faced with the challenge of adapting to meet the needs of students.

Budget Cuts Facing Academic Libraries

College libraries were once the place to research and study. These days, it seems that more students hit the books—or their laptops—at Starbucks than in their school libraries, and library budgets are being subsequently affected.

In May 2009, the American Library Association reported that many academic libraries were facing budget cuts as the U.S. economy experienced a downward spiral. Examples provided by the ALA at the time included Yale University, which reported deductions in their library collections budget for 2009–2010 to be 10%. The NorthEast Research Libraries consortium, a group of 26 large research libraries, reported that average library cuts among the group were approximately 4 to 5 percent.

College Libraries Reducing the Number of Books

In July 2010, NPR reported that shelves at Stanford University’s Engineering Library have contained fewer and fewer books over the past few years. Most periodicals have been moved online, and books are being digitized and placed into storage.

Helen Josephine, Stanford’s library chief, told NPR that the process has actually made research easier on students. As opposed to spending countless hours searching through multiple volumes of books, students can “find the right formula quite easily” thanks to digital volumes and high-tech search capabilities.

Stanford library director Michael Keller said that librarians determined which books to keep on the shelves based on how frequently the books were checked out. Many had been sitting “unchecked” for five years or longer. “They write their papers online, and they read articles online, and many, many, many of them read chapters and books online. I can see in this population of students’ behaviors that clearly indicate where this is all going,” Keller said in regards to college students using books for research purposes.

University’s Library Renovations Includes Fewer Books

More recently, in April 2011, Inside Higher Ed covered the University of Denver’s plans to move much of its academic library collection into a storage facility located off-campus. The school is currently renovating its Penrose Library to transform the facility into an “Academic Commons” to provide more comfortable seating and work spaces, group study rooms, enhanced technology and software, and more. Most of the library’s collection will be placed in storage, but are expected to be accessible within a short time period should students request books.

Library Lending Program for Kindle E-Books

In February 2011, MSNBC reported that participating college and university libraries would soon begin to offer Kindle books, which would be readable on the Amazon Kindle e-book reader as well as the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone.

Technology known as Whispersync will allow students to highlight as they read and take notes in the “margins.” Impressively, the student’s notes would not show up for subsequent readers that checked out the same e-book, but they would be accessible should the same student check the book out again or eventually purchase it. The Kindle books are also supposed to feature page numbers which correspond to print versions of the same book, a problem that many students and educators had disliked about e-books in the past.

MSNBC pointed out that observers were curious as to what titles will be available and curious about licensing restrictions, but as of February 2011 over 11,000 public and educational libraries were set to participate in the Kindle Library Lending Program.

College Library Video Game Rooms: A New Trend

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, video games are another new addition to college and university libraries. The University of Michigan opened its Computer & Video Game Archive in the lower level of the Art, Architecture and Engineering Library in 2008. The Archive collects video games and related game materials for several different reasons, including but not limited to programming and technology, artistic and literary expression, social and cultural impact, and instruction and education.

The University of Wisconsin at Whitewater added a video game collection to its library in 2010. Although the university does not collect video games in every format, it offers games for Wii, Playstation, and xBox 360. The video game collection supports the university’s multimedia curriculum.

The Chronicle reports that other schools have added video game collections to campus libraries or are planning to follow suit in the near future. “The argument is really pretty simple,” David S. Carter, an engineering librarian at the University of Michigan, told The Chronicle. “We have faculty who are doing stuff involved in video games, so the library needs to be doing something to support that teaching and that research.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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