When They Say “Build A Digital Library” They Mean “Build”

I have to say I am somewhat confused by this press release issued by the University of Calgary. Perhaps I’m just not thinking broadly enough. The University announced a plan to build the $113-million Campus Calgary Digital Library. Now that’s clearly enough money to build a fine facility, but isn’t a digital library by its very definition something that only exists in electronic format. In fact, they are building a new facility. It will offer 3,500 student spaces, loads of computers, and of course, access to digital resources. Does this make sense? Can a physical library building be named the “digital library”? Is this the start of a trend? And just what sort of message are they trying to send to users? That their building is so advanced that it’s not physical, but digital. Clearly there is a digital library somewhere at the University of Calgary. Referring to the library’s electronic holdings as the “digital library” seems more commonplace. But I think this is the first time I’ve heard of an actual, physical library building that will be called the digital library. Am I missing something here? I hope someone else can clear up the confusion for me. Maybe I am just a luddite after all.

6 thoughts on “When They Say “Build A Digital Library” They Mean “Build””

  1. Sounds like the Marquette library – build a new facility to accomodate computers and more study space, but leave the books in an old library / warehouse. The Chronicle covered it in an article “Do Libraries Really Need Books?” (subscription required). It mystified me – since one of the big draws of a library is the symbolism of books, not to mention their utility. I think we need to find ways – as Marc’s library has – to renovate old space or build new ones that place digital access and social spaces among books, not in new and separate facilities.


  2. In years to come, the physical library as we know it will become a place of access as well as a place for quiet and/or collaborative study. Students will turn to the internet for more and more of their information and research needs and less and less used will be the physical materials. As Google overcomes copyright retrictions and Yahoo’s Open Content Alliance grows, others will begin to realize and adapt to the potential for full-text access to online content as well. And as technology births a reading device that makes online reading more enjoyable (especially for your eyes), student demand for access to digital resources will continue to grow. When the levee breaks, whole new worlds will be opened and the traditional view of what a library is will have shifted forever.

  3. Maybe. I just had a first year student asking for information about ethonol choose to limit her search to books. She’s a novice to the subject matter, she wants information she can read and rearead and hang onto as she figures it out, and she wants the broader context that she feels the books are likely to offer over articles, government documents, or websites. I think we often attribute to youth a love of technology that they don’t share with us. I always like what Doug Brent has to say about this in his book Reading as Rhetorical Invention. And a story in the Chronicle suggests Colleges should not assume that the latest generation of students is made up of techno-wizards.” Thanks to Bernie Sloan for sharing this story on Collib-L.

    New reading devices may indeed help, and the soaring cost of newsprint may play a role too in boosting such technologies – but I am not sure that students will demand more digital resources – at least not exclusively. They like books far more than we give them credit for.

  4. It’s an interesting topic to follow right now… and one that has lots of people on both sides. You make good points. Diana Oblinger has done some good research on the subject at Educause, but it’s hard to beat the kind of first-hand experience you’ve made an example of here too.

    Earlier this summer, in the Chronicle, there was another article making the case that browsing physical stacks led the author to serendipitous discoveries that “changed his project entirely”. And I remember when I was in school that I did the same on many occasions and the ability to browse really did enhance my research. As I research things online now though, I find the same serendipitous discoveries happening as I follow links from one article to another. I think more can be done to make the same happen for online books too. There is also an interesting and recent article from Blake Carver at lisnews.com. Although, I believe it will take a bit longer than the ten years that he imagines for our future to become fully digital.

  5. Interesting. I have observed one phenomenon and wonder how widespread it is. In interviewing students (good students) about their research, I found every one of them (n=16, not a large number) printed out or had paper copies of all of their sources. They needed to physically spread them them out, mark them up, organize them spatially around them to see their relationships. They each had their own ways of categorizing things or marking them (some had elaborate color coding, others used book darts) but nobody – not one – worked from digital files. In part they were so worried they would accidentally misuse sources they felt having the paper copy was essential.

  6. I’ve observed the same with my colleagues. Even though we rely so much on computers, there is still the need to print frequently (I have several stacks of papers on my desk all the time!). I think worth considering is the difference in how people work/study vs. how they get their information. For example, if students can get all of their sources in one place (online) and then just print them from one place, wouldn’t that be more convenient than travelling to different libraries to round up all of the books/articles that they need?

    Also of note: the amount of paper being used in businesses continues to rise, not fall, despite all of the technology that’s supposed to reduce paper consumption.

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