In the March 26, 2013 issue of UTSA Today, KC Schamberg discusses the success that has been realized from the creation of the new library there. The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) opened its satellite library as part of the Applied Engineering and Technology (AET) Library in 2010, and set from the start for it to be a very different kind of library. Instead of rows and rows of shelves full of resource books of all shapes and sizes, they have no books at all. Rather than looking through the card catalog and then going up and down stairs and elevators to find that book or material, students sit down and use the internet for all it is able to do.
The layout of the library is an important differentiator from other libraries. There are public computers each set at a desk with work space. There are group rooms where several people can get together to collaborate on ideas and research. These rooms have whiteboards and glass walls, all of which can be written on, in order to foster the kind of teamwork essential for successful brainstorming and implementations. Instead of a hushed, quiet feeling, these libraries are bustling with activity and productivity.
In order to maintain the access to the kinds of specific materials that certain degree programs at the college would require, the library subscribes to e-journals and databases that contain articles and videos and research on topics of specific interest to certain major programs within the school. In addition, the move away from physical books has also forced the library to make available digital copies of the many books that students may need for further investigation than a short visit to the library. This library have over one million e-books available for e-readers, and even has e-readers available for checking out on three week terms.
As is with traditional libraries, it is important to have librarians on premises that can assist the students with their particular reference needs. These librarians have been specially trained to be able to assist in finding the kind of journals and reports online that students may be looking for. In addition, each of the librarians provide assistance through email, so that they are able to assist students that are physically at the library with their questions, but also are available to students working elsewhere, to help them find the information they are looking for.
The school has definitely discovered some surprising benefits that have come from this new digital format. Since the librarians are not busy organizing and shelving books all day long, they are much more available to help the students with particular questions they have. Another is the digital format makes it possible for many students to be accessing the same information at the same time. With traditional book format, only one student would be able to use the reference materials at a time. For schools with large groups of classes, that could mean that hundreds of students are waiting for the use of the one or two copies of the reference that are in stock at the library. The digital version makes it universally available to al the students that need it.
The ability to transform the nature of a traditional library has been a valuable experience for the UTSA library system, but also provides an example of what can be done with libraries of the future with less reliance on books every day. The benefits of this newer library format, combined with the drastic reduction in square footage needed to house these new libraries provide interesting opportunities for educational institutions and municipalities in the future.
This new library may be different from some of the most famous libraries of the world, but it shows just how different libraries of the future may be.