TODAY'S QUESTION: Does the move to digital text benefit libraries and students?

Friday, July 9, 2010 | 2:27 p.m. CDT; updated 3:15 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 9, 2010

More college libraries around the country are becoming book-free. That is to say they’re trading their heavy printed copies for lighter-weight digital versions.

According to a recent NPR article, Stanford University joined the club after deciding to build a new engineering library once school administrators realized their old one was rapidly running out of room — no surprise, as the building was home to some 80,000 volumes. But it is surprising to hear that the new library may not have many books on its shelves.

With an opening date set for August of this year, only 10,000 books will find space on the new shelves, the article reports. That’s more than an 85 percent decrease. The library will, however, be home to thousands of online periodicals.

According to a survey by the Association of Research Libraries, it’s becoming a trend for American libraries to spend less money on print and more on its electronic counterpart.

And MU’s Ellis Library has jumped on the digital bandwagon as well. When in 2008 it was clear that Ellis Library was slipping into a deficit, subscriptions to journals were cut and more online versions were moved from the shelves to the computers, according to an article from The Maneater.

Online versions of books and journals save shelf room and the labor it would take to shelve the publications, MU Libraries Director Jim Cogswell said. It also helps that electric versions allow students and faculty to gain access to books and journals without the headache of waiting for other readers to return them to the shelves.

But some schools have voiced concern that the digital texts might have some drawbacks. Arizona State University’s decision to use Amazon’s Kindle as a way of accessing electronic versions of texts was met with a lawsuit because the digital reader wasn’t fully accessible to the visually impaired.

Is the move to digital text largely beneficial, or are there drawbacks?

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