The Associated Press reports that the University of California at Berkeley has recently remodeled its undergraduate Moffitt Library to replace 135,000 books on its top two floors with more collaborative and meeting spaces for students to rest, study, and collaborate. The University of California at Santa Cruz has also reduced its book collection in the name of more collaborative and study space.

Students are largely positive about these changes, saying things like “I’ve never actually needed to use a physical book.” They get more use out of these modern collaborative spaces than the formerly “musty” facilities that they rarely visited. Some faculty and staff aren’t so sure that it’s a good idea. They note that, while you can still access the books via online databases or interlibrary loans, that relies on students knowing which books they want. However, the ability to browse for works students didn’t know they needed is curtailed.

Nonetheless, even critics of the move to reduce space spent on books accept that they’re on the way out.

“It’s the wave of the future,” [Harvard University math professor Curtis T. McMullen] said of digital learning. “The idea of research in a library is becoming archaic, versus Googling on the Internet. Maybe they’re not accessing the best information with what comes up on Google, but people are used to finding things on the Internet.”

It’s worth remembering that, in recent years, “Googling on the Internet” has become significantly more effective in terms of information available. Most notably, where it used to be necessary to rummage through card catalogs or browse shelves for books about general subjects and hope they contained specific information that could help you, now Google Books can search within millions of books to find exactly the right information.

It’s also worth remembering that the idea of book-light or even bookless libraries—both public and academic—has been picking up a lot of steam over the last few years. We’ve covered a significant number of articles touching on this trend. Another trend is the way that libraries are becoming more than just repositories of books, but are adding useful tools and equipment to become “sandboxes” where patrons can combine learning and enriching play activities. In order to make room for those tools and equipment, something else has to go, and it seems likely that “something” is print book collections.

A librarian friend who works at another college noted that his own institution is also looking at reducing print reference collections to make more room for collaborative spaces. He adds that ebooks make up most of his library’s book budget now, and that he’s only needed to use the print reference collection a handful of times in the 12 years he’s worked there.

Library-focused ebook services like Overdrive and Hoopla Digital for general fiction and non-fiction books, and more specialized research databases for reference books, can be very helpful in reducing the amount of space library shelves have to devote to printed books, just as ebooks can help individuals declutter their homes. As meeting spaces for study, collaboration, and other activities start to take up more space in libraries, these digital services may be very helpful when it comes to making room. I imagine this trend will only continue in years to come. Some types of works will always work best in print, but I suspect that more and more of the print-optional kind will gradually be replaced.

(Found via The Passive Voice.)

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