An interesting article over at Inside Higher Ed. The author, Rev. John P. Minogue, gives a brief history of the university and then poses some questions. One in particular caught my attention:
Meanwhile, 20th century universities are running average price increases twice the inflation rate and carrying multiple overheads of unproven value to the buying market. Walk into the library of any university today that has ubiquitous connections to the Internet, and you will find the stacks empty of both faculty and students. Is the traditional library a value add or a costly overhead? As with IBM, 20th century universities believe their brand will sustain price increases. “No frill, just degree” competitors are producing product without the high cost of minimalist full-time faculty workloads, large libraries and multiple staff intensive manual processes.
Of course any time I read questions like this I get defensive and get the urge to respond -- luckily for me the Library Director at Philadelphia University beat me to it:
This essay asks the question “Is the traditional library a value add or a costly overhead?” and it’s a good one because in today’s Internet information environment that feeds the get it fast, get it easy approach to research, the academic library is in danger of being marginalized. But my answer to the question is, the academic library is a value add. A recent study (see http://acrlblog.org/2006/05/30/...quality-academic-library-buildings/) found the academic library building plays a significant role in the prospective student’s college decision-making process. But it’s not the building so much as the library staff that add value to the student’s education. Through user education and support the library helps students achieve higher quality research. Of course, this may only matter if faculty make it a priority and encourage use of the library resources in their assignments. As far as “deserted libraries” go, that’s a myth that was exposed years ago. My own library just experienced it’s third straight year of a 9% increase in user traffic. Any institution that invests in better library resources is likely to see an immediate return on its investments with significant increases in traffic and use of the resources. As far as those for-profits go, many have beefed up their own library resources in order to meet accreditation standards, and minimize their own students’ reliance on those traditional libraries that are supposedly of questionable value.