DENVER — When does a library cease to be a library?
What started as a debate over whether brick-and-mortar libraries would survive much further into the 21st century turned into an existential discussion on the definition of libraries, as a gathering of technologists here at the 2009 Educause Conference pondered the evolution of one of higher education’s oldest institutions.
“Let’s face it: the library, as a place, is dead,” said Suzanne E. Thorin, dean of libraries at Syracuse University. “Kaput. Finito. And we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is.”
her argument tapped into theories about the obsolescence of libraries — traditionally defined — that have grown along with the emergence of Web-based reference tools, e-books, digitized and born-digital content, and other technologies that some see as changing essential library functions.
Certain major research universities, she noted, have even begun moving their books to off-campus storage facilities due to space issues and a diminishing need for on-site hard copies. Libraries everywhere are eliminating pricey subscriptions to printed academic journals, often opting for less expensive digital versions.
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