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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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« A Missed Opportunity | Main | Lord Save Us From Patent Reform »

August 23, 2005

When Libraries Try to Compete

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

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.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture


1. anon on August 23, 2005 10:49 AM writes...

"Lamont Library was the first library building of its kind within a university setting in the United States that was specifically planned for undergraduates.... The Library opened in January 1949 and was considered to be the primary support for the new curricular program for Harvard College based on the report entitled General Education in a Free Society."

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2. Tobe Liebert on August 23, 2005 11:10 AM writes...

To be fair, the UGL library collection on the UT Austin campus was a fairly small collection, lightly used by students. Directly across the street from the UGL collection is the "research" library on campus (the Perry Castenada Library), housing one of the biggest print collections in the nation. The UGL facility has been increasingly used as a computer-centered facility for some time now, and this recent move just completes the process.

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3. Dr. wex on August 23, 2005 11:18 AM writes...

Interesting. So 1949, and Lamont not Widener. So what to make of the fellow who remembers needing a professor's letter? Thank you anon, whoever you are.

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4. JMG on August 23, 2005 11:49 AM writes...

Harvard has many libraries. Widener is the main one, with the most books and the most daunting stacks. Lamont and Cabot (the science library) are still the two most often used by undergraduates, as well as the many specialty libraries (essentially every department has its own). When I was an undergrad, Lamont had an exhibit on the debate about whether to allow Radcliffe undergrads to use Lamont as well. The articles from that era were hilariously and quaintly misogynistic.

Generally, the undergrads don't venture into the stacks of Widener unless they're doing some pretty obscure research, or, for the more daring, if they're looking for a dark corner in which to get frisky. (I'm not kidding.)

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5. Carlos Ovalle on August 23, 2005 12:26 PM writes...

Wanted to point out the the books are still around, but moved to other collections, as the article notes.

The proposed changes to the UGL have been interesting, and appear to be the result of several issues, some covered in the article and some not covered in the article. For example, most of these articles don't mention the budgets of the entities involved as part of this change, but that's certainly an issue.

Older info here:

University Libraries' Press Release:

UT Press Release:

Daily Texan:

Daily Texan:

Daily Texan:

The School of Information, where I work and teach on occasion, is going to be part of this new "information commons." Note that the School of Information used to be the School of Library and Information Science. ^_^

At any rate, we're eager to see what this new space will look like and how it will be used, and what the criteria will be for successful use... and of course, if we're actually moving in. :P

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