It’s not about the books. It’s about the books representing the last place on campus where intellectual contemplation thrives.
If a college library moves 170,000 of its books to storage, to make room for sumptuous new administrative offices—which is happening at Maine’s Colby College—does it still count as a library? Or, as an impassioned open letter from concerned faculty attests, is it no longer “a place for reflection and deep thought, research and scholarship,” but rather merely “a waiting room” sans books and a reference librarian, and surrounded by temples to the new gods of the American university?
The Colby administration argues that the renovations are there to help the students, providing them with more study space. The student newspaper is less convinced, headlining an op-ed “Sorry, Your New Library Still Sucks.”
The Colby case is but one example of a widespread move to re-appropriate library space in the age of digitization. From the University of Nebraska to the University of Edinburgh, from the University of Nevada–Las Vegas to Kent State, knowledge repositories the world over may soon have to change their names, because the liber will be increasingly hard to come by. In fact, the only major library to “resist” this trend—the New York Public Library—did so only reluctantly, and out of capitulation to a passionate, organized, grass-roots campaign.