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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The future of university libraries

A recent article from Inside Higher Ed discusses two new studies that take a look at the implications for university libraries that are considering shifting their paper collections to digital. The studies will be published this spring by the Council on Library and Information Resources. One of the studies compares the cost of keeping books on the shelves to putting books in a warehouse and focusing on digital resources. The second study looks at the effort to build new libraries for the digital future.

According to the article, both studies conclude that the digital books can help save libraries money but first professors and students must embrace e-books and this transition will take time. Authors of the second study, Geneva Henry and Lisa Spiro of Rice University’s Digital Media Center, also said that libraries seem to be moving in the direction of primarily digital infrastructures. The article notes that campus resistance can occur during the transition because scholars still prefer to browse through aisles of books and currently the experience of reading digital books is not directly equivalent to paper books. However, print books come with a higher lifetime cost because they require continual space and maintenance costs, and the books can deteriorate with use. E-book databases can offer scholars more books without these requirements but libraries will face other challenges associated with digital such as making sure the e-books are compatible with the devices that they will be read on.

For now, the technology is still evolving and libraries will be faced with challenges as they look to transition. However, as noted in the article, as the technology advances and new research and best practices for libraries emerge, the potential for cost savings could be a big factor when determining whether to offer paper or digital resources.

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