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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wash. U. Closes Biology, Math Libraries, Ponders Future of Books

Posted By on Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 11:25 AM

click to enlarge Soon to become (even more) obsolete? - FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/LOLA_UM
  • Soon to become (even more) obsolete?
Oh, brave new world, with your 24-hour Internet access and ubiquitous empty wallets and red-soaked ledgers! You have encroached even upon the rarified campus of Washington University -- yes, even that country club where students can pre-order their cafeteria lunches to spare themselves the inconvenience of waiting in line.

Sadly, Wash. U.'s biology and math students will no longer be able to eat those pre-ordered lunches within the happy confines of their own departmental libraries, reports Student Life, the university's student newspaper.

Not that many students were using them anyway. But it says something interesting about the future of libraries in general.

Since many of the scholarly journals which comprised the math and biology libraries went online, foot traffic had become increasingly infrequent, Shirley Baker, the university's Dean of Libraries, told Student Life, so it made sense, in the face of budget cuts, to eliminate those two divisions. The bulk of the cost of maintaining the two libraries went toward the librarians' salaries.

The math and biology collections have been moved to space in Olin Library, the main campus library, and the two librarians have been reassigned to vacant positions in other library divisions.

This may be a harbinger of further changes within the Wash. U. library system. Budget cuts will be even steeper next year, which may force the libraries to rely even more heavily on electronic resources.

The widespread use of digital materials is changing the structure of libraries dramatically, pushing them to consolidate and weed out their print materials when online copies become available. Olin has adapted by creating a digital library team to push the process along. Its staff has also started to use Google Books to give students access to books they cannot find otherwise....

"When we talk about where the libraries will be as we finish our Plan for Excellence, it will probably be fewer physical libraries," Baker said. "The digital collections will grow dramatically; we may even remove some print from the main campus."

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