INDIANA, Pa. – A library without books? Not quite, but if students withdraw from the stacks in favor of online reference material, university and college libraries solve millions of unread volumes in a nationwide purge that has a number of print-loving scholars deeply unsettled.
Libraries put the books in storage, contracting with resellers or just recycling them. An increasing number of books exist in the cloud, and libraries are to unite, in order to ensure copies are maintained by someone, somewhere. Still, that does not always sit well with academics who practically live in the library, and argue that the large, immediately available collections are of vital importance for the research.
“It is not at all comfortable for everyone,” said Rick Lugg, executive director, OCLC Sustainable Collection Services, which helps libraries to analyze their holdings. “But not infinite resources to deal with these things, it is a situation that must be faced.”
At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the library, the shelves filled with books that get too little attention. A dusty monograph on “Economic Development in Victorian Scotland.” The international Television Almanacs, 1978, 1985 and 1986. A book of which the title, “Personal Finance,” sounds relevant, until the publication date: 1961.
With almost half of IUP the collection is uncirculated for 20 or more years, university administrators decided a major cleaning was in order. Using software from Lugg the group, they came up with a first list of 170,000 books that are eligible for deletion.
Faculty members who earn their living in the piles of recorded outrage.
“Incredibly wrongheaded” and a “knife through the heart,” by Charles Cashdollar, professor emeritus of history, wrote the president and the provost. “For humanists, the throw of these books is just as devastating as the lock of the laboratory or in the studio, or clinic doors would be for others.”
Although “the weeding” has always taken place in libraries, experts say the pace is picking up. Finances are a factor. Between staffing, costs and other expenses, cost an estimated $4 to a book on the shelf for a year, according to a 2009 study. Space is another; libraries are just run of the room.
And, of course, the digitization of books and other printed materials, has dramatic consequences for the way students do research. The circulation is going down for the year.
Libraries say they need to develop themselves and to make better use of valuable campus real estate. Students still flock to the library; they’re just using it in different ways. Bookcase to give way to the group study rooms and counseling centers, “makerspaces” and coffee shops, libraries try to reinvent themselves for the digital age.
“We are a bit like the living room of the campus,” said Oregon State University librarian Cheryl Middleton, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries. “We are not just a warehouse.”
It is a radical shift. Until recently, a library in the value which was measured by the size and scope of the in her possession. Some scholars still see it that way.
At Syracuse University, hundreds of faculty and students objected to a plan to ship the books to a warehouse of four hours. The school wound up building its own storage for 1.2 million books in the near of the campus.
At IUP, a state university, 60 miles (96 km) of Pittsburgh, faculty responded with alarm after school officials announced a plan to discard up to a third of the books.
Cashdollar argues that the circulation of the blood is a poor indicator of a book’s value, because books are often consulted but not checked out. Substantial thinning of a library’s print collection also ignores the role of serendipity in the research on the lookout for a book in the stacks and stumbling upon a other, which leads to a new insight or approach, Cashdollar and other critics say.
“We plan to throw away as many of them as the library can get away with, and that 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 that there is no more place for students to study.”
The library project is more about responsible stewardship of state resources than it is an attempt to free up space, Provost Timothy Moerland said. But he understands his colleague’s passion.
“There are some who will never be comfortable with the idea of a book ever leaving this mortal coil,” he said.
Libraries say that the purpose is to make their own collections more relevant for students, while also ensuring that weeded materials are not lost to history. A large digital repository called HathiTrust has commitments from 50 member libraries to more than 16 million printed volumes. The other 6 million are preserved by the Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust’, a consortium of 60 libraries from Maine to Florida.
An IUP faculty commission is the judge of what Moerland dry is called the “hit list” to ensure that important work stay on the shelves. The final number of books to be removed, has yet to be determined, but the potential scale is directly visible. Librarians have placed large red stickers on the spines of the hit-listed volumes.
Some students say they worry about missing deadlines if they have to wait for a book from the library not more. Others, such as the 19-year-old freshman Dierra Rowland, as they say on the board.
“If no one reads them,” she said, “what is the point of having them?”