Thursday, April 28, 2011


No Room for Books

April 27, 2011

While university libraries have taken on numerous functions over the years, such as serving as places for students to study, meet with others, and interact with technology, one component that has always been central to their mission has been housing books.
But plans at the University of Denver to permanently move four-fifths of the Penrose Library’s holdings to an off-campus storage facility and renovate the building into an “Academic Commons,” with more seating, group space, and technological capacity, could make the university a flashpoint in the debate about whether the traditional function of storing books needs to happen on campus.
“We are not alone in this trend of increasing central campus space for study, services and student learning and decreasing central campus space for legacy collections,” said Nancy Allen, dean and director of Penrose Library, in an e-mail statement.
The proposed change has raised the ire of some arts, humanities, and social science professors who say that, while impressive, technology hasn’t yet replaced a good old-fashioned trip through the stacks. They argue that the administration dropped the changes in their laps without consulting them and that it will harm their main mode of research.
“You would never ask a scientist to get rid of his or her laboratory,” said Annabeth Headrick, an art history professor. “But that’s exactly what’s being done to us.”


  1. I grew up working in that library. I loved every stack. This makes me crazy. The analogy to a lab is spot-on.

    "Legacy collections." WTF. They're called books and manuscripts.

  2. I've got mixed feelings. My discipline is usually housed in English departments, but I've not used a library book for years. Odds are that I won't use an archival book again for years, either, so I wouldn't miss them tremendously.

    In contrast, I remember stumbling across serendipitous finds while searching the library stacks for journals, and I'd've missed the opportunity to randomly dip into sources were the stacks not available to me. Sometimes there's just no substitute for seeing what's shelved next to the source you're looking for.

  3. A decision made by trustees? In other words, elderly rich dinosaurs who haven't cracked open a scholarly book in 50 years, if ever. As a historian I usually go to the section I need and start reviewing the books on the shelf. Books with titles that sound useful often are not, and books that may not seem useful when i see them listed on the computer turn out to have just what I need.

  4. My school is starting this process this summer. In fact, not only are they moving ALL the stacks elsewhere, they're only leaving two rows of shelves of journals that are not available online (at least according to the plans we saw at our last all-faculty meeting). The stacks are going to be kept onsite, but not out in the open (people will have to request a key to go look through actual BOOKS). More open spaces for collaborative study and laptop stations (like at the airport) are now planned. I'm waiting for the coffee bar to open up next...


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