In an age when people can store the entire bestseller list in technology that fits in the palm of their hand, the future of ink and paper books appears questionable.
This fall, the digital library idea will be tested on a large scale in San Antonio, Texas following previous failed launches across the nation. On a smaller scale, K-State has already dabbled in the world of electronic books at several campus libraries, with the potential to expand in the future.
In 2000, K-State first pioneered its use of digital library technology in the Fiedler Engineering Library, located in the Durland Engineering Complex.
“When the library was being designed in the mid-1990s, they decided to go all-digital with it because that’s what the future was bringing,” said Alice Trussell, director of the Fiedler Engineering Library.
The Fiedler Engineering Library is dominated by two long rows of computer stations for student use. Each station has two large computer screens and enough area for students to spread out their homework and books.
Engineering students can access the digital catalogs with a password; the databases are not open to non-engineering students. Within the catalog system, students can find books by class, professor or topic. Once a student accesses a book, he or she can download the book onto another device one chapter at a time.
While the digital concept is different than a traditional library, the lending idea is the same.
“We don’t want to create the impression that they can access the books and keep it,” Trussell said. “You’re supposed to be lending it.”
Books can be accessed through a personal laptop, tablet or smartphone. The library also offers 15 laptops that students can check out.
With a variety of options and services, the digital library can serve students in many ways a traditional library cannot.
“I literally come here every day, even on the weekends,” said Kathryn Biver, senior in civil engineering. “I use it mainly to work on homework and access the computers.”
Not all resources in the library are digital. The library still contains a few print reference books, journals and magazines on the limited traditional shelf space.
Having a majority of resources online can lead to drawbacks when technology stops cooperating, said Asha Muthukrishnan, library assistant at Fiedler Engineering Library.
“It’s a drawback when the K-State server is slow or isn’t working,” Muthukirshnan said. “If the server doesn’t work, they can’t access that stuff.”
Hale Library, which contains over a million books and resources, has begun to collect digital articles and books to add to its current print collection.
“We have a number of online resources,” said Marcia Stockham, assistant dean of content management and scholarly communications at Hale Library. “We have e-books and online journals. We’re consistently buying e-books or digital collections that include out-of-print books.”
In addition to these resources, Hale Library recently joined HathiTrust.org, a project created by a number of major research institutions that aims to preserve works representing the cultural record. These works would include both copyrighted works and material that lies in the public domain.
“It’s a huge project looking to preserve print material in digital format,” Stockham said. “We can have access and search that huge database. Then we have the ability to use a portion of the titles.”
A completely digital library in a non-university setting is not far in the future. BiblioTech, a fully-digital library, is set to be unveiled in San Antonio next fall. Patrons can check out publications on e-reader devices or library-owned e-readers for a period of time. According to the Huffington Post, the library will be designed like an Apple store, with rows of library shelves replaced by rows of computer screens.
While other libraries, such as the one in San Antonio, have made the conversion to full digital contents, Hale Library staff have no plans yet for making that giant leap.
“The trend in libraries is to move in that direction,” Stockham said. “But [Hale] probably won’t be there for a while.”
While the trend is to go digital, Biver said she would miss the hard-copy books should they disappear from Hale Library.
“I don’t prefer to read on the screen,” Biver said. “Plus, you can get distracted with other things on the computer.”
Jacob Handy, senior in social sciences, acknowledges benefits to electronic publications but still remains loyal to print and paper books.
“If I had an e-reader, I’d probably use it mainly for reading,” Handy said. “I’d subscribe to a few magazines. But I like some aspects of physical books. I like to write notes in them.”
For now, it seems that bookshelves are here to stay and fully-digital libraries are still a thing of the future.
“I think all libraries will be moving toward this,” Trussell said. “But I personally believe that print will always have a place in this world, at least for the next few decades.”