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US College Libraries in a Digital Age

Students work in the Rain Garden Reading Lounge inside the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., May 3, 2016.

Students work in the Rain Garden Reading Lounge inside the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., May 3, 2016.

Many U.S. colleges and universities are making big changes to their libraries.

The schools are finding ways to serve students and to succeed in an increasingly digital world.

The days of musty books on shelves, bound journals, card catalogs, long tables and rules governing behavior are gone. Now many campus libraries have cafes, group study areas, where talking is permitted, and sofas designed for taking a short nap. Some are even open 24-hours a day.

Julie Garrison is dean of libraries at Western Michigan University. She says the welcoming additions reflect the latest thinking about the millennial generation's learning habits.

"We used to think about library design always in terms of the books. We were about first collections, then readers,'' Garrison said. "There is less of a need to protect a print collection in the way we did when it was the only way to get information, and we realized that if we let people bring in food and drink, they would stay longer.''

In place of books, students use laptops and connect to the internet with Wi-Fi. Students can study anywhere.

To keep up with the digital age, college libraries are now being equipped with media production labs. They also have high-technology "maker spaces'' where students can use 3-D printers and laser cutters, and data visualization walls where they can present projects.

On many campuses, information technology professionals work next to librarians.

Katherine Bergeron is president of Connecticut College in New London. She says there really has been a complete shift in the idea of what a library is doing on a campus. She says the shift is from having a place where knowledge is preserved to a space for creation and collaboration.

However, Christopher Stewart says new technologies expand rather than replace traditional libraries.

The assistant professor at Dominican University in Illinois says technology continues to change the way the world works and libraries are no exception. But, he adds that students still need quiet space to just sit and think. The library has been and will continue to be that place.

I’m Marsha James

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Marsha James adapted her report for Learning English. Her story also has information from an Associated Press report. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

musty – adj. having a bad smell because of old age or lack of fresh air

cafe n. a small restaurant where you can get simple meals and drinks (such as coffee)

millennial generation n. term used to refer to the generation born from 1980 onward, brought up using digital technology and mass media

habitn. something that a person does often in a regular way

3-D printers –n. a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file

laser cutters –n. a technology that uses a laser to cut materials, and is typically used for industrial manufacturing applications, but is also starting to be used by schools, small businesses, and hobbyists

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