Physical and virtual libraries

At the moment students and scholars in the humanities still need access to physical books. There is a trend towards converting libraries into study halls, meeting places, and chill-out spaces (all useful things which are the responsibilities of universities, rather than their libraries). When financial resources are limited (at RUG the closure of the Arts Faculty Library is a stark reminder of this), if a library has to fund these things they come at the expense of facilitating access both to physical and digital texts and for the humanities, the quality of a university library is a mark of the quality of the institution’s teaching and research.

  • In my discipline no student can carry on first-class work without access to (expensive) physical and digital texts. In my experience there is a lot more work to be done to help (and in some cases to compel) students to learn how to do the independent research that marks a university degree out from other qualifications.
  • It is very helpful for students to be able to browse open shelves to orientate themselves in a new subject. There are, for example, hundreds of books on Shakespeare in the library, and there can be endless reading lists from lecturers, but by far the best way to get started is to be able to browse through them quickly. I recently began some research on King Henri IV of France, someone about whom I knew very little. The fact that I was able to find the main biographies and encyclopedias related to him together on the shelf of the arts library saved me a lot of time (and perhaps some embarrassment).
  • The research of staff and graduates plays an important role in the esteem a university enjoys. Studying at a respected institution is worth more economically. I know of no university that is world-famous for its library furnishings.

Academics will need both the physical and virtual library for years to come

Bodleian Library
The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Because of all the books, computers and reading places there is no room for a cafe or large chairs. Users can, however, get access to underground tunnels and stacks with dangerous moving shelving. (Photo credit: J.Salmoral)
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