Li­braries turn the page

Col­leges adapt to dig­i­tal era by re­design­ing ‘musty’ rooms into hip spots with fewer books, more study ar­eas

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Teresa Watan­abe

BERKE­LEY — UC Berke­ley’s newly re­mod­eled un­der­grad­u­ate li­brary is mod­ern and sleek, with its top two floors fea­tur­ing lowslung couches, a fu­tur­is­tic nap pod, and meet­ing spa­ces with glass walls made to be writ­ten on and col­or­ful fur­ni­ture meant to be moved.

The li­brary has even dropped its rules against bring­ing in food and drinks on those floors. That’s be­cause they no longer con­tain any books, which could be dam­aged or stained.

California’s old­est univer­sity has re­moved 135,000 books from Mof­fitt Li­brary, ship­ping most to other lo­ca­tions, to cre­ate more space for stu­dents to study, recharge and col­lab­o­rate on group projects — a sta­ple of col­lege work today.

Li­braries are 4,000 years old, but the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion is dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing their use on col­lege cam­puses. From coast to coast, UC Berke­ley to Har­vard Univer­sity, li­braries are re­mov­ing rows of steel shelv­ing, stash­ing the books they held in other cam­pus lo­ca­tions and dis­card­ing du­pli­cates to make way for open study spa­ces. Their bud­gets are shift­ing away from print, to dig­i­tal ma­te­ri­als.

The changes have met re­sis­tance. But they suit many stu­dents just fine.

Ted Xiao, a grad­u­ate stu-

dent in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing and com­puter sci­ence, loves the changes at Mof­fitt. He and five class­mates re­cently used a meet­ing room to work on a Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion. As they brain­stormed, they ate snick­er­doo­dles washed down with milk tea.

Mof­fitt used to be so “old and musty,” Xiao said, that he vis­ited once and never re­turned. Now he comes of­ten — and doesn’t miss the books. Ev­ery­thing he needs is on­line.

“I’ve never ac­tu­ally needed to use a phys­i­cal book,” Xiao said. “I’ve never checked one out. I can’t hon­estly say I even know how.”

At UC Santa Cruz, how­ever, the re­moval of 80,000 books from the Sci­ence and En­gi­neer­ing Li­brary last sum­mer sparked up­roar — among fac­ulty. This win­ter, more than 60 sci­ence and math fac­ulty mem­bers signed a let­ter to univer­sity li­brar­ian M. Elizabeth Cow­ell, com­plain­ing that they hadn’t been ad­e­quately con­sulted on which books could be dis­carded and which had to be saved.

Cow­ell wrote in re­ply that she had con­ferred with deans and ad­min­is­tra­tors, and posted up­dates on the li­brary’s home page, but re­ceived no in­di­ca­tion of “sig­nif­i­cant con­cern.” She said all of the books that were moved or de­stroyed — about 60% of the li­brary’s col­lec­tion — were used in­fre­quently and could be ac­cessed on­line or through UC in­ter­li­brary loans.

“Noth­ing has left the schol­arly record,” said cam­pus spokesman Scott Her­nan­dez-Ja­son.

UC Santa Cruz in­creased en­roll­ment by 730 stu­dents last fall. Re­mov­ing all books from the li­brary’s third floor, Her­nan­dez-Ja­son said, al­lows for a class­room and “des­per­ately needed study space.”

Still, the Aca­demic Se­nate ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion in Novem­ber to say it “con­demns the dra­matic re­duc­tion of the print col­lec­tion” and “de­plores the de­struc­tion of books.”

Richard Mont­gomery, a UC Santa Cruz math pro­fes­sor, said on­line ac­cess or in­ter­li­brary loans are fine for those who know ex­actly what they need. What’s gone is the abil­ity to browse for ideas.

“You walk into a space that used to be a li­brary and it’s empty,” he said. “It’s hor­ri­ble. It’s like death.”

Har­vard fac­ulty suc­ceeded in scal­ing back a plan to re­move about 90% of books and print ma­te­rial from the Cabot Sci­ence Li­brary. Cur­tis T. McMullen, a math pro­fes­sor, said he fought hard to keep many of the math books, which help him puz­zle through re­search prob­lems. They have a long shelf life, he said; think Eu­clidean geom­e­try, which is more than 2,000 years old.

Thanks to such ar­gu­ments, ad­min­is­tra­tors agreed to keep 50,000 books within reach in the li­brary base­ment.

But McMullen said he ac­cepts that print books are on their way out.

“It’s the wave of the fu­ture,” he said of dig­i­tal learn­ing. “The idea of re­search in a li­brary is be­com­ing ar­chaic ver­sus Googling on the In­ter­net. Maybe they’re not ac­cess­ing the best in­for­ma­tion with what comes up on Google, but peo­ple are used to find­ing things on the In­ter­net.”

UCLA was a leader in li­brary re­design, re­con­fig­ur­ing a floor in the Charles E. Young Re­search Li­brary in 2011 to make room for open seat­ing, group study rooms and col­lab­o­ra­tion pods equipped with LCD mon­i­tors for pre­sen­ta­tions. About 18,000 vol­umes — half the print ref­er­ence col­lec­tion — were moved else­where, but more than 2 mil­lion books re­main on other floors.

At UC Berke­ley’s Haas School of Busi­ness, stu­dents led a suc­cess­ful charge to get rid of books. They gained trac­tion by in­vok­ing one of the school’s mantras: ques­tion the sta­tus quo.

Hi­lary Schi­raldi, the busi­ness school li­brar­ian, said stu­dents kept ask­ing her, “In the spirit of chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, why is this li­brary filled with dusty books no one looks at and I can’t get a study space?”

They had a point, she said. Af­ter all, she now spends 95% of the li­brary bud­get on on­line ma­te­ri­als. Mean­while, printed archives of stock prices, an­nual re­ports and di­rec­to­ries of corporate of­fi­cers have be­come ob­so­lete.

Suren Dias, a se­nior in an­thro­pol­ogy who works in the busi­ness li­brary, said many stu­dents also see ebooks as more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly.

“The col­lec­tions lost their pur­pose,” Schi­raldi said. “It was time to move to a dig­i­tal li­brary.”

The school de­cided in 2014 to move 70,000 books — nearly its en­tire print col­lec­tion — into stor­age fa­cil­i­ties. Stu­dents now have 12,000 more square feet for “col­lab­o­ra­tive ta­bles,” comfy arm­chairs, mov­able white­boards, even two ex­er­cise bikes.

UC Berke­ley li­brar­ian Jef­frey MacKie-Ma­son said the cam­pus still has one of the largest univer­sity book col­lec­tions in the na­tion — 12 mil­lion cir­cu­lat­ing vol­umes held in two dozen li­braries. The print ma­te­ri­als in­clude orig­i­nal Shake­speare fo­lios, copies of John Wy­cliffe’s 14th cen­tury Bible trans­la­tions and the largest North Amer­i­can col­lec­tion of an­cient Egyp­tian papyrus frag­ments.

In fact, the con­tin­ued im­por­tance of print ma­te­ri­als in the dig­i­tal age, he said, was the big­gest take­away from the Berke­ley Li­brary’s newly com­pleted five-year strate­gic plan.

“Most of the world’s in­for­ma­tion is still in print,” he said, not­ing that on­line re­sources are widely avail­able only in English and a few other lan­guages. Berke­ley, the world’s top pub­lic re­search univer­sity, col­lects ma­te­ri­als in 200 lan­guages.

“So mov­ing to­ward the fu­ture is tricky,” MacKieMa­son said. “We need to do it and will be do­ing it quite ag­gres­sively, but we can’t de­stroy what we’re de­pen­dent on.”

On a re­cent day at Mof­fitt Li­brary, where the $15-mil­lion ren­o­va­tion was un­veiled last fall, Bi­jal Pa­tel, a teach­ing as­sis­tant for a health­care class, talked with seven stu­dents about med­i­cal in­tern­ships over home­made pasta, lemon­ade and M&Ms. Her fa­vorite fea­tures are the new food pol­icy (“There’s no need to hide cof­fee in your back­pack”) and the white­boards and writable glass walls, which al­low her to work out prob­lems with class­mates.

“Us­ing pa­per is waste­ful,” she said. “Here you can draw it out on the board, rea­son with class­mates and hash it out in 20 min­utes.”

The ren­o­va­tion plan, 10 years in the mak­ing, ini­tially en­vi­sioned re­mod­el­ing all five floors — but the 2008 re­ces­sion forced Berke­ley to scale it back to two as a “demo project in what stu­dents today need,” said Elizabeth Dupuis, the as­so­ciate univer­sity li­brar­ian.

The five-story con­crete li­brary was built in the Bru­tal­ist ar­chi­tec­tural style, which was pop­u­lar in the 1960s but came to be re­garded as “un­friendly” by stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to Aaron HoweCor­neli­son of Gensler Ar­chi­tec­ture, the project’s de­sign firm.

The firm re­fash­ioned the top floors into a hip ware­house-style space, with larger win­dows, trans­par­ent walls and higher ceil­ings with ex­posed vent ducts.

The fourth floor, called “Buzz,” is the col­lab­o­ra­tive space, where stu­dents are free to chat, brain­storm and prac­tice pre­sen­ta­tions. They can check out pro­jec­tors, iPads, lap­tops, charg­ers and dry-erase mark­ers.

The fifth floor, “Hush,” is a qui­eter space with wide ta­bles and in­di­vid­ual study car­rels with their own lights and out­lets. Three-di­men­sional geo­met­ric wall art is de­signed to ab­sorb sound. A “well­ness room” fea­tures re­clin­ing chairs and a nap pod with a top that flips down to cre­ate dark­ness and pri­vacy.

Mof­fitt stays open around the clock Mon­day through Fri­day and dur­ing fi­nals and midterms, and un­til 10 p.m. on week­ends. It also has lock­ers for the grow­ing num­ber of stu­dents who live too far away to run home be­tween classes, Dupuis said.

“In the end,” she said, “stu­dents feel com­fort­able and can work for very long hours.”

Berke­ley be­ing Berke­ley, though, some stu­dents have panned the re­design.

Daniel Menegaz, a fresh­man, called Mof­fitt “the most ridiculed li­brary on cam­pus.” He said he liked the “fresh and clean look,” but finds it nearly im­pos­si­ble to nab a free seat. As for the open ar­eas and meet­ing rooms, he thinks they’re a waste of space, and some ta­bles are too low to use a lap­top com­fort­ably.

The ab­sence of books doesn’t bother him. He ei­ther buys books so he can mark them up or reads them on­line.

“To me, li­braries have just been study spa­ces,” he said.

Pho­tographs by David Bu­tow For The Times

A $15-MIL­LION ren­o­va­tion of UC Berke­ley’s Mof­fitt Li­brary brought up­dates in­clud­ing new study spa­ces, made pos­si­ble by the elim­i­na­tion of book­shelves, and writable glass walls and mov­able fur­ni­ture.

David Bu­tow For The Times

NAP PODS cre­ate dark­ness and pri­vacy for stu­dents tak­ing a break af­ter long study ses­sions.

Pho­tographs by David Bu­tow For The Times

THE RE­FASH­IONED top two floors at UC Berke­ley’s Mof­fitt Li­brary fea­ture larger win­dows, trans­par­ent walls and higher ceil­ings with ex­posed vent ducts.

THE CAM­PUS’ main li­brary, above, with its co­pi­ous stacks of books, is a sharp con­trast to Mof­fitt, from which 135,000 books were re­lo­cated to other lo­ca­tions.


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