Front Story: In the Aug. 23, 2005 "Learning" section of The Christian Science Monitor, ("Academic Libraries Empty Stacks for Online Centers"), the following was just reported:
The University of Texas (Austin) [note: map of campus] undergraduate library transferred all 90,000 texts and volumes "to other collections in the campus' massive library system", in essence creating a 'library without books'.
There is, in other words, no longer an undergraduate library. Truly!
In fact, if a visitor took a quick search of the university's website, they would be met with the following message: "The Undergraduate Library web site is no longer available."
No longer available? Just a web site? No...the entire building itself!
Considering the school's enrollment figures boast a whopping 39,000 undergraduate students on campus, this appears to be a radical change.
But a change to what?
Back Story: If libraries are viewed as the back-bone of a school or university, certainly the removal of the very same should suggest something mildly transformative is going on. This is precisely the intention of the new Flawn Academic Center.
This appears to be less about removing books and more about changing the very way that students, instructors, researchers, and their partners come together and explore the ideas most important to them.
"The UT library is undergoing a radical change, becoming more of a social gathering place more akin to a coffeehouse than a dusty, whisper-filled hall of records" where possessing "physical collections" are no longer "the sole purpose anymore."
As the university's own press release suggests: "Today's UT studetns multi-task in a digital, multimedia world. And now they will have a very special non-virtual spa -- The Flawn Academic Center -- filled with information and learning professionals to guide them as they study, create and discover" (quote: Sheldon Ekland-Olson, executive vice president and provost).
Radical change? To say the least.
A Few Questions:
- Did you know that the first (ever) "undergraduate library" didn't come along until 1950 at Harvard University?
- Did you know that Penn State recently shifted to a "information commons" approach (instead of a traditional library) in 2001...and saw the number of students coming in to use their services rise "by 300 percent"?
- Did you know that a school in Vail, Arizona has permanently done away with textbooks in an effort to fully integrate each student/teacher into a "textbook free environment" where students "will read and turn in most homework online"? Go to the following "Wired" magazine link about the same school and what it is discovering: "Look, Ma, No Schoolbooks"
And a Few Possibilities: If UT's Flavin Academic Center is any indicator, it would seem that school designers and their clients, communities and those working closely with libraries, community and business partners and technology-gurus would all be wise to (at least) begin wondering what it would take for such a shift to take place on a wider scale.
- Perhaps the question should be turned around: would a traditional library with endless shelves of books be the 'logical design solution' if we were to create the first-of-its-kind based on what we know now...and what is coming our way?
- Perhaps changes like this potentially create opportunities for increased community involvement/partnerships for K-12 schools if a library was to be re-designed as an 'information center' rather than a 'keeper of books' .
- Perhaps a K-12 school could partner with the local town library to co-store books and provide 2 interactive environments for research, for work, for creative activities, for technology training, etc.
- Perhaps this could have a net positive impact on student achievement.
- On a community's efforts to develop a true path of 'life-long learning', as well.
- And perhaps this could radically assist K-12 schools/districts in their effort to maximize resources/offerings in the face of evolving 21st century skill requirements and do so successfully with fewer resources.