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Innova Design Solutions say bookless libraries could sweep education within a generation

Posted by Stephanie Broad | April 01, 2016 | Technology

Nearly 350 libraries have closed in the last six years, as councils and schools alike watch the former community hub’s role filled by technology. Melanie Laing (pictured above) from interiors specialist Innova say ‘bookless libraries’ could be the norm within a generation, providing a quiet study space without the paper. 

Far from a far-fetched concept, the first bookless libraries already exist in America with the education sector leading the charge.

Florida Polytechnic University's library, which opened in 2014, doesn’t contain a single physical book. It instead offers access to more than 135,000 ebooks. Both the Taubman Library at the University of Michigan and the engineering library at Stanford have followed suit – offering only digital texts.

In the UK, the move towards bookless libraries is gathering pace, with many higher education institutions following a digital first education strategy. Plymouth University has run an award-winning ‘innovative ebooks’ programme since 2013 where students receive free digital copies of core course texts, which can be annotated and shared between students and lecturers.

Melanie Laing, director at Innova Design Solutions, says: “It’s clear that the future for libraries is digital, which has huge implications for traditional educational libraries. All the evidence is pointing towards libraries becoming high-tech knowledge centres where students can access digital works. For the next generation, traditional libraries could be something of a novelty – a relic from the past. 

“Whether these libraries operate on a cloud basis with digital memberships, loans and returns, or libraries lend security protected physical devices – this more advanced model of accessing library works is likely to be rolled out in public, school and university libraries. We’ve already seen many e-book exclusive releases and we can expect this trend to play a role in the move towards widespread bookless libraries.”

An artist's sketch of a digital library

In a recent report for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which promotes policies that improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world – the organisation’s director for education and skills, Andreas Schleiche, said school systems needed to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies, adding that technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge.

Professor Simon Handley, dean of Plymouth University’s Faculty of Science and Technology has claimed that even the best stocked libraries cannot have room for enough books to cover every student on every course at peak times, and argued that ebooks can help overcome that problem and free up library space for valuable supplementary text and resources. 

Elsewhere in the UK, Queen Mary University London now provides core texts as free ebooks and has reduced its textbook budget by 20%.

Speaking about the changing face of UK libraries, Melanie added: “Bookless libraries will remain peaceful places to study a text away from the classroom, but a reduced or eliminated need for physical books will free up additional space.

“As such facilities will feature computer terminals, desks, interactive study areas and comfortable spots where people can absorb their digital texts. Academic libraries, like high street book shops, could also adapt to offer new services, such as cafés, that improve the user experience and entice students. 

“It’s also worth bearing in mind that the transition to digital is a greener solution. Reading an ebook does not necessitate the depletion of resources in the same way that printed books do – so as universities, colleges and schools look to reduce their carbon footprints they may look towards increasing digitisation as a viable strategy for achieving this.” 

Melanie Laing is Director at Innova Design Solutions    

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