By Beckie Supiano DECEMBER 08, 2017
The University of Wisconsin at Madison plans to close 22 libraries and create six “hubs” designed to facilitate how students and scholars work today, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.
The plan follows a study that found professors and students use more research material online and work more frequently in groups. That pattern, the university argues, makes hubs — with better technology and flexible space — a good approach. “The shift,” the Journal reports, “will allow library staff to focus less on space management and more on assisting students and researchers.”
Still, some professors, graduate students, and staff members worry about the consequence of losing collection space, which would be cut by nearly two-thirds under the plan, and of closing more-specialized libraries. The Journal quotes Gloria Whiting, a history professor, as saying that “there is a scholarly value to browsing,” an activity that depends on the physical presence of material that the plan would house offsite.
Similar concerns have cropped up in recent years as other research libraries have changed their focus. When the New York Public Library announced plans, in 2012, to move a chunk of its collection to remote storage, for instance, a professor worried about its becoming a “vast internet cafe.” And storing books offsite can present plenty of logistical challenges.
Even so, “pivoting away from books and toward supporting students” is widely seen as a natural progression for libraries now that so much information is readily available online. Librarians’ jobs are changing, too, with a heightened focus on teaching. One niche they’ve carved out: enhancing students’ information literacy in an age of fake news.