Stanford Engineering Library Transitions To Electronic Books

July 21, 2010

Hardcover book connected to computer mouseStanford University's new engineering library will have fewer books when it opens in August. According to NPR, the library is moving more than 85 percent of its books to storage facilities, leaving only 10,000 on the shelves.

Library chief Helen Josephine said more and more periodicals have been moved online, so removing print versions made sense. NPR pointed out that the rapidly changing nature of engineering also contributed to the shift. Although engineering uses some basic formulas, specialties such as software and bioengineering are constantly evolving, making it difficult for printed books to keep up.

The university decided to build a new library in 2005, when it realized it was running out of space for its growing collection. Library director Michael Keller said librarians determined which books would stay by looking at how frequently a book was checked out. Librarians discovered that most of the books had not been checked out for five years.

Stanford's "bookless library" does not necessarily mean that this is the end of books. Although electronic books are more convenient, The New Yorker argued that the shift is simply a result of overcrowding. Stanford buys 100,000 volumes a year, which comes out to 273 volumes a day. With such a fast-growing collection, Stanford's engineering library will only continue to run out of space.

The Motley Fool pointed out that the transition would be great news for Google, which has worked with other universities to digitize their collections. Libraries at institutions such as Princeton, Harvard, Oxford and Cornell are already in the process of going electronic.

Book publishers are also expected to benefit. Selling e-books means that publishers can eliminate the middleman--campus bookstores--and sell directly to students. They can maintain prices, but cut the cost of overhead and printing, allowing for greater profit.

Josephine told NPR that most engineering students are looking forward to the change as e-books will help them cut down on research time. She has seen many students spend hours going volume and after volume of books in order to find a specific formula. "With books being digitized and available through full text search capabilities, they can find that formula quite easily," she said.

Keller believes that more and more books will appear in digital form. "[Students] write their papers online, and they read articles online, and many, many, many of them read chapters and books online. I can see in this population of students behaviors that clearly indicate where this is all going," he said.

NPR also added that a recent survey by the Association of Research Libraries showed that American libraries are spending more on electronic resources than they are on traditional books.

Some students, however, have mixed feelings about the transition. "To read a book on the screen is kind of tiring for me," said Sam Tsai, an engineering student who checked out a few books from the library. "I sometimes like [the] paper form. But if I can access books online, it's much more convenient for me, so I would actually prefer that as well."

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"College Libraries Saying Buh-Bye to Books?" fool.com, July 9, 2010, Nathan Alderman

"Stanford Ushers In The Age Of Bookless Libraries," NPR.org, July 8, 1020, Laura Sydell

"The Dawn of the Bookless Library," newyorker.com, July 14, 2010, Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

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