A library without books? Universities purging dusty volumes
A library without books? Universities purging dusty volumes
Libraries are putting books in storage, contracting with resellers or simply recycling them. An ever-increasing number of books exist in the cloud, and libraries are banding together to ensure print copies are retained by someone, somewhere. Still, that doesn’t always sit well with academics who practically live in the library and argue that large, readily available print collections are vital to research.
“It’s not entirely comfortable for anyone,” said Rick Lugg, executive director of OCLC Sustainable Collection Services, which helps libraries analyze their holdings. “But absent endless resources to handle this stuff, it’s a situation that has to be faced.”
At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the library shelves overflow with books that get little attention. A dusty monograph on “Economic Development in Victorian Scotland.” International Television Almanacs from 1978, 1985 and 1986. A book whose title, “Personal Finance,” sounds relevant until you see the publication date: 1961.
With nearly half of IUP’s collection going uncirculated for 20 years or more, university administrators decided a major housecleaning was in order. Using software from Lugg’s group, they came up with an initial list of 170,000 books to be considered for removal.
Faculty members who make their living in the stacks voiced outrage.
“Unbelievably wrongheaded” and a “knife through the heart,” Charles Cashdollar, an emeritus history professor, wrote to the president and provost. “For humanists, throwing out these books is as devastating as locking the laboratory or studio or clinic doors would be for others.”
Though “weeding” has always taken place at libraries, experts say the pace is picking up. Finances are one factor. Between staffing, utility costs and other expenses, it costs an estimated $4 to keep a book on the shelf for a year, according to one 2009 study. Space is another; libraries are simply running out of room.
And, of course, the digitization of books and other printed materials has dramatically affected the way students do research. Circulation has been going down for years.
Libraries say they needed to evolve and make better use of precious campus real estate. Students still flock to the library; they’re just using it in different ways. Bookshelves are making way for group study rooms and tutoring centers, “makerspaces” and coffee shops, as libraries seek to reinvent themselves for the digital age.
“We’re kind of like the living room of the campus,” said Oregon State University librarian Cheryl Middleton, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries. “We’re not just a warehouse.”
It’s a radical shift. Until recently, a library’s value was measured by the size and scope of its holdings. Some academics still see it that way.
At Syracuse University, hundreds of faculty and students objected to a plan to ship books to a warehouse four hours away. The school wound up building its own storage facility for 1.2 million books near campus.
At IUP, a state university 60 miles (96 kilometers) from Pittsburgh, faculty reacted with alarm after school officials announced a plan to discard up to a third of the books.
Cashdollar argued that circulation is a poor indicator of a book’s value, since books are often consulted but not checked out. Substantially thinning a library’s print collection also ignores the role of serendipity in research — looking for one book in the stacks and stumbling upon another, leading to some new insight or approach, Cashdollar and other critics say.
“We’re going to throw away as many of them as the library can get away with, which is not a strategy,” said IUP history professor Alan Baumler. “They say they want more study areas for students, but I find it hard to believe there is no place else for students to study.”
The library project is more about responsible stewardship of the state’s resources than it is an effort to free up space, Provost Timothy Moerland said. But he understands his colleagues’ passion.
“There are some who will never be comfortable with the idea of any book ever leaving this mortal coil,” he said.
Libraries say the goal is to make their own collections more relevant to students while also making sure weeded materials aren’t lost to history. A large digital repository called HathiTrust has commitments from 50 member libraries to retain more than 16 million printed volumes. Another 6 million have been preserved by the Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust, a consortium of 60 libraries from Maine to Florida.
An IUP faculty committee is reviewing what Moerland dryly calls the “hit list” to make sure important works stay on the shelves. The final number of books to be removed has yet to be determined, but the potential scale is readily apparent. Librarians have affixed large red stickers to the spines of hit-listed volumes.
Some students say they worry about missing deadlines if they have to wait for a book the library no longer has. Others, like 19-year-old freshman Dierra Rowland, say they’re on board.
“If nobody’s reading them,” she said, “what’s the point of having them?“
Pregnant Meghan takes break from Australia royal tour
- The trip officially ends in New Zealand on October 31
SYDNEY: Meghan, the pregnant wife of Britain’s Prince Harry, is scaling back her engagements during the royal couple’s 16-day Pacific tour, Kensington Palace said Sunday, ahead of their visit to Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.
The royal couple have had a gruelling schedule since arriving in Australia on Monday, visiting Sydney, Melbourne and the regional town of Dubbo, as well as opening the Olympic-style Invictus Games for disabled and wounded soldiers.
“After a busy program, The Duke and Duchess have decided to cut back The Duchess’s schedule slightly for the next couple of days, ahead of the final week and a half of the tour,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.
The opening ceremony for the Games at Sydney’s Opera House on Saturday night was delayed after an intense thunderstorm, and the Duchess of Sussex did not attend a cycling medal presentation with Harry on Sunday.
At the event, held in The Domain gardens, the prince was asked by someone in a crowd of onlookers where his wife was.
“She’s resting at home,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported him as saying. “Being pregnant takes its toll.”
Meghan rejoined her husband for lunch with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, before watching a Games sailing event from a boat on Sydney Harbor.
They are due to attend a private reception for the Invictus Games Foundation at Government House late Sunday before heading off to Fraser Island in Queensland state.
But Meghan is not expected to take part in official engagements at the World Heritage-listed site on Monday, with Kensington Palace adding that “The Duke will continue with the engagements on Fraser Island as planned.”
The pair are due to visit Fiji and Tonga after Fraser Island.
The news came as Harry received an unusual request from some members of the Australian cycling team at Sunday’s presentation — if he could sign an Invictus pair of budgie smugglers.
“Budgie smugglers” is the colloquial term Australians use for Speedo-style swimwear.
The Duke of Sussex declined the offer.
“He told us he’d love to sign them but he wasn’t allowed to,” athlete Damien Irish told the ABC Sunday.
The trip officially ends in New Zealand on October 31.