At the University of Virginia, college student book borrowing has decreased from 238,000 books annually to 60,000 books annually in the last 10 years; at Yale, it’s decreased by 64 percent. For The Atlantic, Northeastern University Vice Provost for Information Collaboration Dan Cohen describes the changing landscape of university library use, and the attendant ways in which academics and college students alike do research differently. “These stark statistics,” he writes, “present a conundrum for those who care about libraries and books.” But responses to proposed changes in library organization and administration often rely on emotional, not practical, ideas about what a library should be.
Some people even suggest that libraries should retain on-site physical books, despite decreased readership, as a kind of background noise or “beneficial ambiance.” And yet, Cohen writes, “As beautiful as those libraries appear—and I, too, find myself unconsciously responding to such surroundings, having grown up studying in them—we should beware the peril of books as glorified wallpaper. The value of books, after all, is what lies beneath their covers, as lovely as those covers may be.”
Photo credit: Dr. Marcus Gossler.