We've all read the news stories about this college or that college removing books from their libraries. Stanford was one of the first to go bookless back in 2010, and many more colleges have followed suit. This includes Florida Polytechnic University, which opened a bookless library last fall, and the University of Michigan, which just reopened a medical library but left the books in storage.
From the Toledo Blade:
The University of Michigan has reopened its Taubman Health Sciences Library after a $55 million overhaul and rethinking of how a library for medical students should function.
Hundreds of thousands of books were moved to an offsite location and are available on demand for delivery, and by becoming “bookless” the school said that frees up space for medical student education. The facility on the school’s Ann Arbor campus officially reopened over the weekend.
You can find more details in the U of M's announcement.
While a traditionalist may object to a library without books, the fact of the matter is libraries have always been more than warehouses for books. Academic libraries in particular are used more for study than for storing old and possibly outdated books.
Or as one retired librarian framed it over on The Passive Voice:
It’s about education and what works best to teach students. Just being able to browse shelves of old books, when medical information turns over about every five years, is not enough. Electronic databases with full-text articles and other online information are more accessible and more current. Browsing online is far superior to looking at shelves. Collaboration and group learning has been shown to be far superior to the solitary, no-feedback, one-way lecture of the physical book and doing it in the library is great.
And just so you know, UM's books had been moved to storage a couple years ago when the renovations began. In effect, the library had gone bookless a couple years ago with little or no negative impact on the students.
Students simply don't need the books taking up the space, not when they mostly used for studying, as another librarian over at The Passive Voice:
In 2009 I worked at a legal research library. Very few students ever got a book off the shelf. It’s all online. I would reshelve, at most, maybe 30 books a day.
Research libraries are NOT browsing libraries for the most part. You have a specific book you want to find in most cases. Usually people would ask me to fetch it without ever entering the stacks.
The stacks were used primarily for studying, the tables and chairs and couches were used extensively.
That librarian went on to add that when a student requested a book, it was usually either on reserve behind the circulation desk or in storage. Most of the rest of the books simply weren't required, so they were taking up space which could be put to better use.
And frankly, the book less library is simply the latest stage in a trend that has been building for over ten years now. As information becomes easier to access online, many categories of books have become redundant.
Phone books were the first to go, followed by atlases. Both were replaced by online phone books, map sites, etc. Guidebooks and factbooks were the next in the trash bin, and now some libraries have found that their entire collections can be pushed into the back room so more space can be dedicated to learning.
I expect the trend to continue to grow, but I don't expect it to spread. Bexar County Public Library notwithstanding, the bookless library is an idea that won't work in every situation.
Public school libraries, for example, can't go bookless because they frequently lack the funding to do so. But most college libraries will look like Taubman Health Sciences Library over the next ten years, if not sooner.