Worrying about returning those overdue books will become a thing of the past for Stanford University students who use the Physics and Engineering library.
Stanford University is currently developing an electronic reference desk with four Kindle 2 e-readers, as well as an online journal search tool (xSearch) which scans 28 online databases and more than 12,000 scientific journals. The new library will be half the size of the current Physics and Engineering library, and will include “brainstorm islands,” a digital bulletin board, a group event space, and a self-checkout system.
The decision was easy for university officials because the new digital library will save money on purchasing costs, as well as storage space. (Apparently Stanford purchased up to 100,000 books a year, which totals to 273 each day). It is said that the books are going to be shipped to a storage facility in California, 38 miles from the campus.
But Stanford is not the first school to go bookless. The library at Carnegie Mellon University has been publishing online journals for years, and just recently started purchasing eBook versions of reference books. And Boston’s Cushing Academy adopted a digital library in 2009, and replaced 20,000 of its books with digital sources. They also spent $10,000 on electronic readers from Amazon.com and Sony, $500,000 on a “learning center,” $42,000 on three flat-screen TVs which will “project data” from the Internet, and $20,000 on laptop-friendly “study carrels.” (Obviously their motives weren’t entirely based on saving money, since they also spent $50,000 on a new coffee shop which has a $12,000 coffee machine…)
And in the past four years, more than 2 million books have been digitized from the UCSD’s International Relations and Pacific Studies Library, the East Asian Language Collections, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Library, (the world’s largest oceanography library with over 100,000 volumes). In 2006, UCSD joined the Google Book Search Project, and in doing so, became the first southern Californian university to partner with Google and go digital.
Now all of the books from UCSD’s libraries are accessible by simply searching for them in the Google Book Search index, and readers can view and browse through the complete texts online. (It is reported that over 7,000 people browse through the libraries each day). Since the Google Book Search Project was first established in 2004, Google has been digitizing more than 12 million books from various libraries and publishing partners.
The pros for going digital, according to librarians:
“Most of the libraries on campus are approaching saturation. For every book that comes in, we’ve got to find another book to send off.” – Andrew Herkovic, director of communications and development at Stanford Libraries. (source)
“Rare books [can be] scanned and delivered via the World Wide Web to scholars in places such as Argentina and Germany who could not visit the books. Electronic versions save wear and tear on using the physical book, which is important if you are a book from 1755 and your leather spine is dry and cracking…Our educational community looks to librarians to help them learn how to navigate the complex information landscape. A library is still a place to come to think, ponder, read, study with others, and other activities of learning. One of our main missions is to help students and faculty learn how to use different types of information and to access them and to use them efficiently.” – Mary Catharine Johnsen, the special collections and design librarian at Carnegie Mellon University. (source)
And then, the cons:
“I’ll look at a book and say ‘this is important work, but not currently used…When I look back, then there is a certain sadness for me. Any change is hard. And there are moments of joy, when I see bookplates of former faculty who owned and donated the book, and sometimes made notes on the side.” – Stanford Physics librarian Stella Ota. (source)
“Unless every student has a Kindle and an unlimited budget, I don’t see how that need is going to be met. Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power. When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book.’’ – Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association. (source)
“For literature students, you really want to see the original format of the work as received by its first public. Was it a fancy coffee-table book? Was it a cheap paperback or flimsy pamphlet? Was it a colorful book to tempt you in a Victorian train station or an airport bookstall?” – Mary Catharine Johnsen (again), who seems to go back and forth on the issue. (source)
And my personal favorite:
“43 percent of French students consider smell to be one of the most important qualities in printed books —so important that they resist buying odorless electronic books.” – Author Robert Darnton’s in “The Case for Books.” (He also goes on to mention that CafeScribe, a French online publisher, is giving customers a sticker that gives off a “bookish smell” when attached to a computer).