Bookless Libraries – no joke.
A trending topic of late that has gained popularity within university library systems, who want to be more innovative and responsive to the needs of today’s college students, are the idea of bookless libraries. It’s really a misnomer when we say bookless because ultimately they are chock full of books and information: ebooks, digitally born books, digital literary works, web materials. Many bookless libraries while most have replaced their stacks with computer labs and comfortable seating still own a print collection that is simply stored at a repository off-site. When you mention this idea to anyone over 35, they look at you with horror reminiscent of their school days spent perusing the shelves of worn and weathered resources. Lack of physical space, changing patron usage, innovation, and fear of obsolescence are all reasons why libraries, particularly at the university level, are more seriously considering this (think Stanford, Florida Polytechnic, and University of Michigan Medical School). Frankly, I can see why – even though I am a few classes away from earning an MLIS I have not once set foot in the SJSU library for research purposes. Now, granted I live in LA…I did go once just for fun, but the truth is I don’t use any of the sister university libraries in southern California either, and I rarely (once every few years) set foot in the Los Angeles public library, even though I read regularly from their collection. Many of my peers say the same.
That said, you’d probably be surprised to know that I have several public library cards that I use regularly to check out audiobooks. Overdrive has been a godsend to me since I enrolled in graduate school, as I can take a break from academic reading while traveling to and from my job listening to a new audiobook I’ve downloaded.
I dream of starting a school library at the adult skills center where I work, and I have considered a bookless one for several reasons. First, we have empty classroom space, but we do not have a large enough room that could accommodate more than 50 people at a time other than the auditorium. In other words, space is limited. Second, our students access a tremendous amount of academic material from their smart phones and improving the reach of digital material, ebooks and audiobooks for this purpose would only enhance their school experience. 90% of our student population has access to a smart phone, but less than 50% have access to a computer with internet. Creating a space on campus for this purpose would benefit our students in so many ways. A retired academic librarian writes on the Passive Voice, that learning is only enhanced by the use of digital materials, as it engages a reader/learner in conversation, collaboration and instant feedback that a physical book cannot.