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August 23, 2005
When Libraries Try to Compete
The Christian Science Monitor reports that the UTAustin library has removed 90,000 books from its undergraduate collection. In place of books, undergrads can now find couches, 250 desktop computers, and laptop bays. In an effort to be more in tune with the times (or something) the library is trying to be more Internet cafe (yes, there's going to be a cafe as well) and less dusty stacks.
The physical change, of course, is only the surface manifestation. As Donna recently commented in this blog, a battle is ongoing to preserve the essence of libraries. Part of that battle is introducing the resources and capabilities of libraries and librarians to a generation that has come of age with the 'net, sometimes with the Internet/Web as their only or primary information sources. Colleges and universities are attempting to help undergrads connect the new online sources with the traditional written sources.
Interestingly, the article notes that our current version of libraries for undergrad study is not that old. Kris Axtman's story reports that "Harvard University created the first undergraduate library in the 1950s" - this is potentially incorrect. I called Widener (Harvard's Library) and spoke with someone who was a student there in the 1970s. He indicated that he needed a letter from a professor to access the stacks as an undergrad at that time. To some degree it depends on what Axtman meant by "created" I suppose.
The nice fellow at Widener promised to research the question and email me an answer. I'll update this blog entry when he gets back to me. Hooray for librarians!
UPDATE: based on research from Widener and anonymous comment on this entry, it seems that the appropriate date is January 1949 and it was Lamont library. See Lamont Library's history page.
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