Out with older books, in with new learning styles

The Volpe Library is undergoing an extensive renovation project, which involves tossing about a seventh of the books present now and adding a new section. Did I mention it costs roughly $2 million? The plan is to put in a learning commons for studying and sustaining student learning outside of the classroom. The library is also in the process of thinning its collection of books that are no longer relevant or considered useful to students to make room for new, more relevant titles.

Doug Bates, Library and Learning Assistance dean, said he is unsure of exactly how many books will be removed. Books more than 30 years old that haven’t been checked out in the past 20 years are eligible to go to other Tennessee Board of Regents universities, if they have the need for them.

The removal of several thousand books sounds really bad without a clear explanation, but it is not all negative. For example, a book detailing accounting practices that was published in 1986 is a waste of shelf space when the library needs to buy updated accounting books. The extra space will make room for the learning commons, but the purge would have to happen regardless of the project, according to Bates.

Professors at Tech may review the titles to be removed to salvage anything they feel are still beneficial to students. My question: What happens to all of the books that aren’t saved by professors or given to other libraries?

Bates said, “That’s a good question, I am not sure yet myself.”

Updates on this project and what happens to the leftover books will be posted on the library blog as soon as the information is available. You can find the blog via the library’s website.

The learning commons project is not a new concept for Tennessee universities. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has a similar facility. But according to Bates, Tech’s renovation will be unique. Projects like the commons and learning communities say a lot about how the modern college student learns and how much learning has changed over the years.

Despite the fact that I am a book person, I realize many college students these days rely more on the Internet for information when writing a paper or doing research. In fact, when uninterested in the subject, I do the same thing.

I personally could not use a Kindle or electronic version of a book to read for pleasure. Sure, it’s interesting and convenient, but the tangible book is far more appealing to me. Books, actual concrete objects with pages bound together and text printed inside, are slipping away from us. It’s a shame because books in their traditional form somehow mean more to the reader. Do you see yourself in 10 or so years teaching your kids to read from a computer screen?

This isn’t to say that the commons is a bad idea. I actually think it is a great way to get students who are not bookish like I am to do some active learning outside of class. There will be tutoring and workshops available and access to other learning resources, such as a section for media unlike what is currently in the Media Center downstairs.

Though I find the renovation plans to be a positive thing for Tech, the project makes me wonder how soon it will be until colleges no longer use books in their curriculums. I think that many of us value books in their tactile state, and we should preserve that as much as possible. However the technological age is upon us and I think the general population will not read as frequently because of these advances in technology. If students always have calculators, why would they ever do the math in their head?

The library is still keeping approximately 85% (I was the kid with the calculator, so that may not be entirely accurate) of the books in its collection. And, of course, the most used titles will still be there to check out.

Overall, the renovation will be beneficial to students because of the new learning resources available. It’s an expensive operation, but it is worth the money if it supplies students with better resources to learn. And the book removal will make room for relevant reading material for the rare students like me, who hold books dear.