A Florida University is Going Off the Books
Florida Polytechnic University is going where several have gone before. Just in time for its inaugural fall semester, this state school has debuted a new library which features a sunlit arched roof and cozy reading chairs – but not a single book.
FPU’s new library is on the second floor of the Innovation, Science and Technology (IST) Building (pictured above). Featuring a white dome topped with 12-story-high butterfly wings with louvered panels, this $60 million structure houses classrooms, labs, and office space, as well as an 11,000 square-foot library.
Business Insider reported yesterday that Florida’s newest university was the latest school to open a library sans books:
A fully digital library is among the futuristic features of Florida Polytechnic University’s striking dome-shaped building, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. "It’s a boldly relevant decision to go forward without books," said Kathryn Miller, the university’s director of libraries. The inaugural class of 550 students, offered scholarships covering tuition to attend a public university so new it’s not yet accredited, can access more than 135,000 ebooks on their choice of reader, tablet or laptop.
Bookless libraries are still uncommon both among colleges and among secondary schools, but the idea has been around for a while.
The oldest example I could find was a private school in Massachusetts which renovated their library in 2009 and went bookless:
A year ago, Cushing Academy’s library would have resembled any other, with its hushed atmosphere and tall stacks of books. But that’s no longer the case.
There’s a new cafe where the circulation desk used to be. Where bookshelves once stood, students now sit in easy chairs, studying or watching one of the three new flat-screen TVs. It’s all part of what have been two substantial recent changes at Cushing’s library. The first is removing most of the stacks. And the second is transforming the place into a hub of activity, to give what’s now a largely virtual library a physical home and gathering space.
Sophomore Elsie Eastman says she’s here all the time now. "I remember last year I barely went to the library," she says. "I loved the library — I just barely ever went."
According to its website that school’s library is still (mostly) bookless, although it has been some time since it was last in the news.
About a year later The University of Texas at San Antonio followed suit with the launch of a bookless library (they kept their other existing paper-centric libraries). The Applied Engineering and Technology (AET) Library was described as the nation’s first completely bookless library on a college or university campus:
The 80-person capacity library, which caters to College of Sciences and College of Engineering students, is a satellite of the larger John Peace Library on the Main Campus.
Electronic research is central to the AET Library. Instead of storing printed volumes, the library offers students a rapidly growing collection of electronic resources including 425,000 e-books and 18,000 e-journal subscriptions. Skilled science and engineering librarians are available during library hours to help students who need research assistance.
That claim could well be true; while I am sure there already were universities with spaces which resemble the AET Library (lots of computers and desks but no books), I wouldn’t be surprised of the UTSA was the first to call that space a bookless library.
But while it was the first, as we can see from today’s news it was not the last – nor is it the most famous bookless library. That title would belong to Bibliotech, the new public library branch which launched last year in Bexar County, Texas.
This library gained national attention for its focus on digital resources, community activities, and for filling all the same basic needs of a library that don’t involve being a warehouse for books.
A bookless library is still regarded in some circles as a lunatic fringe, but even the NYPL has debated whether the latest renovation to the Schwarzman building on 5th avenue should remove the musty old books and provide more space for visitors. Those plans were opposed by activists and defeated, but the fact they were considered (and by an established and venerated public library, at that) at all is a sign that radical changes are on the way.