Thanks to Paul for pointing this out:

Academic libraries empty stacks for online centers, from the CSM

There are 2 interesting issues here:

  1. The suggestion of a library without books, &
  2. The library as place.

My first reaction to reading this article was to object to the idea of a library without books. Heaven knows, I’d be the last person to defend print against electronic sources. But even I can’t go as far as a library without books. On the one hand, I totally agree with the vice provost for the general libraries at UT: “I think what they are really grieving is the passing of the book as the means of scholarly communication.” Personally, I’m not at all nostalgic for the book as a vehicle for scholarly communication. In fact, I think that print is inferior to digital as a vehicle for scholarly communication. On the other hand, not everything that exists in print exists electronically. I understand that space is at a premium in libraries. So subscribe to NetLibrary, Califa, every ebook service out there, & get rid of any print book that the library owns or has access to an electronic copy of. In this library I’m proposing, the books are upstairs, & the ground floor is the community center. That seems to me to be the ideal balance. Favor electronic resources over print, ok. But the library should have those print resources that don’t exist electronically. Will everything exist electronically some day? I think yes. But that day is not yet. I’m as sad about this as anyone. But to purge print prematurely would be a mistake.

Upon further investigation though, I discovered that the books in UT’s Undergraduate Library will be moved to other libraries on campus. So it’s not like UT will be a university without a library. But the Undergraduate Library is no more, which is a shame. One of Jean Ferguson‘s findings in her Masters paper is that Undergraduate Libraries serve a unique function among campus libraries, as a testbed of new tech & services. Though I suppose the Flawn Academic Center, described in this article, could still fulfill that function.

Maybe I’m arguing semantics, but I say a library without books is not a library. In what way is such a space different from any other social space — a café, a community center, etc.? Except that the Flawn Academic Center has internet access and librarians. Though having internet access isn’t even enough to set it apart; hell, Starbucks provides wireless access these days. And with the advent of mybrarian-type services, librarians don’t even need to be in a library. Flawn will be an interesting experiment in the role of library as place. I only wish Flawn were more of a “traditional” library, so we could see to what extent the library-as-place-with-books is compatible with library-as-community-center-with-internet-access-and-librarians.