Libraries have changed quite a bit since the Library of Alexandria’s time over 2000 years ago. Papyrus was replaced by handmade books, which were replaced by printed books, which are now slowly but surely being edged out by electronic materials.
In honor of the hundreds of thousands of students heading back to college around this time, I want to share an article that delves into how college and university libraries have changed to suit the modern era.
‘College Libraries Reinvented for the Digital Age’ attempts to assess how libraries have changed over the years. It argues that where once library design emphasized collections of books rather than readers that focus has reversed. As a result, college libraries now include high tech spaces, cafes, group study rooms, and enough electrical outlets to power a seemingly endless supply of laptops.
Despite these changes, assistant professor Christopher Stewart from Dominican University, Illinois observes that students “still have that wonderful sacred notion as a reverent place in terms of scholarship. They still need that same experience we had [in the past], but they need a lot more as well.”
I admit that I have mixed feelings about the changing nature of libraries. The libraries where I worked managed to retain the majority of their collections while focusing on the development of student-centered spaces, but a nostalgic, old part of me still misses the ideal of more traditional libraries. (Of course my laptop and I appreciate having access to more than one outlet per library floor, which is a constant bugbear in older spaces.)
With that, good luck to anyone heading off to college or university! I hope you find many wonderful and varied spaces to read and do research. If you know about libraries that have recently undergone renovations in order to fit with the aesthetic described in this article, let me know how you feel about it! It can be a strange feeling to walk into a new space.