Strange days are coming. As Harvey Weingarten, the former university president, liked to point out at graduation ceremonies, it used to be the case that when he wanted to do research for a paper he would go to the library and search through card catalogues and stacks of paper articles.
The advent of the Internet improved research methods drastically. It's difficult to imagine the extra time necessary to write a paper with the same number of references using past methods- with all the benefits we often forget the old ways. Making journals available online has added extra features as well: we can now easily collect how often articles are
cited and see the specific instances of each reference.
The Taylor Family Digital Library is hoping to push the efficiency of research even further. Although the details of exactly how this efficiency will be achieved haven't come to light, it's clear by the changes occurring on campus that big plans are in place. These changes have caused concern among students,
faculty, and staff.
The decision to build an off campus library to relocate 60 per cent of the library's books is one source of worry. True, with the shift in research methods to the Internet there is less need for print books, and even less for print journals. The amount of space that books take up is a convincing reason to find a better use for the library tower, as is the amount of energy the building must use.
What's less clear is the impact this change will have on student life, especially in the short term. If it takes a day to bring in a book ordered from the HDL, research that would have taken a few minutes on a floor of the library might now take days. This means that to serve the needs of students
books will have to be shipped frequently- every few hours, perhaps- to allow for productive use of time. Of course, the more frequent the trips the less cost efficient the model becomes.
Another immediate change will be the loss of a well tested system of research- finding a book through the online catalogue that looks promising, then looking at books in the vicinity of the one originally searched for. While the catalogue is an efficient way of finding books, many of them are as easily found by actually looking on the shelves. Students will end up ordering in many more books than they need just to see which ones are worthwhile.
A long-term view makes the adjustment easier to take. The closing of the MacKimmie tower for at least a few years once the TFDL opens will be to the detriment of the campus community, but once it's renovated for other purposes the additional space will be valuable. As technology improves, digital options will be more attractive. Digital books will become more commonplace, as they increasingly are, and the ability to find book-length information online will become easier.
So the worry isn't about the distant future- information isn't getting harder to find. Instead, the concern is about the growing pains current students will encounter as these major changes occur. Books are on the way out and there's no reason to lament, just so long as the changes are for the better.