Libraries haven't gone out of style

Foot traffic is actually up

More people are using academic libraries despite an increase in electronic resources.

Donald Barclay, deputy university librarian at University of California, Merced took to The Conversation to say that while the internet has reduced the number of physical items borrowed from academic libraries, the buildings' usage has actually increased.

Electronic resources take over

From 1997 to 2011, circulation of physical books, DVDs and other items fell 29%, while circulation of physical resources per full-time student dropped 50%. Meanwhile, scholarly resources are increasingly available electronically. In 2012, American academic libraries held a collective 252,599,161 e-books.

See all our resources on libraries

"E-books are not only plentiful, they are popular," Barclay writes.

Less than a year after gaining access to 11,992 JSTOR e-books, people at the University of California, San Diego viewed them 59,120 times and downloaded them 34,258 times.

"Today, students access information digitally. The Google app on their smartphones allows students to look up information they once would have found only in analog, library-owned reference sources," Barclay writes.

Libraries see more foot traffic, not less

So it's natural that users asked librarians 28.4% fewer questions in person than they did 16 years ago. To adapt, most libraries now offer the option to submit questions virtually. In 2012, a full 77% of academic libraries offered email or web-chat reference services.

Three ways to optimize and reallocate library space

And despite all these electronic resources and services, library users are also taking more advantage of physical library space. Foot traffic in the 60 largest U.S. academic libraries grew almost 39% from 2000 to 2012, based on cumulative weekly gate count. A similar trend emerges when looking at all college libraries from 1998 to 2012: gate count increased 38%.

"Academic library square footage is increasingly being converted from space to house printed books to space for students to study, collaborate, learn and, yes, socialize," Barclay says.

North Carolina State University built makerspace areas where students can practice connecting items to the internet of things, cutting and milling, and 3D printing. Ohio State University offers consulting for data management plans, funding opportunities, and copyright services in its Library Research Commons.

18 tech trends transforming academic libraries

Other schools are relaxing the rules against talking and eating in the libraries.

"In recent years, we have reawakened to the fact that libraries are fundamentally about people—how they learn, how they use information, and how they participate in the life of a learning community," Barclay writes. "As a result, we are beginning to design libraries that seek to restore parts of the library's historic role as an institution of learning, culture, and intellectual community (Barclay, The Conversation, 4/28).


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