Stanford prepares for a “bookless library”

One chapter is closing—and another is opening—as Stanford University moves toward the creation of its first “bookless library,” a smaller but more efficient and largely electronic library that can accommodate the vast, expanding, and interrelated literature of Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering, reports the San Jose Mercury News. “The role of this new library is less to do with shelving and checking out books, and much more about research and discovery,” said Andrew Herkovic, director of communications and development at Stanford Libraries. Libraries are the very heart of the research university—but the accumulation of information online is shifting their sense of identity. For 40 years, the metal shelves of the modest Physics and Engineering libraries were magnets to thousands of students and faculty, including Nobel Prize winners Douglas Osheroff, Robert Laughlin, and Steven Chu, who now directs the U.S. Department of Energy. The future library will offer a stark contrast. It’s only half the size of the current Engineering Library but saves its space for people, not things. It features soft seating, “brainstorm islands,” a digital bulletin board, and group event space. There are few shelves, and it will feature a self-checkout system. It is developing a completely electronic reference desk, and there will be four Kindle 2 eReaders on site. Its online journal search tool, called xSearch, can scan 28 online databases, a grant directory, and more than 12,000 scientific journals. Several factors are driving the shift. For one thing, Stanford is running out of room, restricted by an agreement with Santa Clara County that limits how much it can grow. Adding to its pressures is the steady flow of books. Stanford buys 100,000 volumes a year — or 273 every single day. “Most of the libraries on campus are approaching saturation,” Herkovic said. “For every book that comes in, we’ve got to find another book to send off…”

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