A library at the University of Texas-Austin faces an existential dilemma that probably feels familiar to bookstores and libraries throughout the United States. In the age of rapid search and delivery, how useful is the presence of physical books?
Last summer, the school's fine arts library took 75,000 books and periodicals from its bookshelves and bookstores. moved to an off-site storage location. It was part of the university's effort to attract more people to the library, among other things, by clearing space for a new "creation space" with a 3D printer and other technological hardware. However, the school was subject to fierce criticism from library users. In March, about 50 students and employees protested against a talk by the dean of the faculty of fine arts, with posters saying: "A library without books is not a library."
"The fact that we are not reviewing them does not mean we are not using them," said Abby Sharp, a third-year student, to the student newspaper The Daily Texan.
The dean of the university has declared that the library of fine arts will not close completely, as rumored on campus. It will also renovate the space that houses the collection of 200,000 remaining books and reduce book recovery times. But the elimination of thousands of books is maintained.
Keeping books off-site is a routine for academic libraries, where the search for the next reading of a large beach is not the most common use case. But the dispute is a reminder of the power of books not only as reading material, but as meaningful objects: no ornamentation or sculpture, but a physical reminder of accumulated knowledge. As libraries and bookstores seek to compete with instant access to free and cheap information, reinforcing the community through classes, live events and Internet access, they will also have to count on this.
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