Mark Montgomery, educational consultant and college admissions expert, talks about the changes sweeping university libraries across the USA: books are being moved off-site and the kind of research that libraries inherently encourage is changing dramatically as a result of new media.
I’m here on on the campus of Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. This is one of a group of liberal arts colleges in New England that I’ve been visiting a lot on this trip, and I’m outside the Shain Library, which is undergoing complete renovation, it’s fenced off, the construction workers are inside, and there’s a big sign on the outside of the fence saying they’re going to renovate this to bring in new collaborative spaces, a brand new cafe, upgraded technology, better access to learning services at the university, and all this brings up a fact of American universities today, that libraries are undergoing a change and even a questioning of their relevance.
It used to be, back in the dark ages when I was a student, the collection was not digitized, so even searching for a book that would help you in your research was a chore. Just searching. So you would learn about a particular part of the library, a certain part of the stacks, where you could go and maybe browse and see if you could collect books that were related to the one you were searching for. But what’s happening now is that libraries like this one and the University of Denver, quite notably, too, moving their book collections off-site, completely off the campus. So that if you want to do that research, you want to find those books, you can request those books to be sent over from a massive storage facility. It may reach you in an hour or two, but it’s not going to lead to the kinds of serendipitous discoveries of the perfect book that is going to help you in your research.
Why is this happening? Again, students are doing much more online, all of the major periodicals are online, there is not the need to have these big facilities to store paper. So what are they doing? They’re putting a nice cafe they’re making 24-hour study facilities, they’re bringing all the learning services together and call them “Learning Commons,” learning centers, academic communities, all kinds of things except not really a library. It’s a different kind of use for the building and a different way of accessing the information that students may need to further them in their research. So in some ways it’s really nice to see that Connecticut College is investing in its library, it’s an important hub of the learning of what happens at a college or a university. It’s nice to see that that’s a focus of financial energy and support. But at the same time, it does sort of mark a change in how libraries are being used and accessed on American college campuses.