The Divine Miss Daisy, from the blog I Still Have a Snake, responded to my griping about libraries and so forth. Since she is a librarian, and quite cool, here are her thoughts:
"It seems to me that what they've done at University of Texas is to move the books away from the undergrad library and into the stacks at the main library. I can't say I think that's a great idea, but I sort of get it. What they've done is turned the undergrad library into something between a library and a computer lab, but not quite either."
Yes, I guess I can see the idea behind it. People do find worthwhile information on the net. I use Gallica Classique all the time. I mean, I'm not a complete luddite, although grad student is pretty much a monastic position. I think our undergrad library actually has no books on the main floor, although it does on the other two floors.
I guess the problem I have is that I'm on the end that assigns course-work and we don't really assign the internet, you know? I'd love to think that students would order books and have them delivered, but I hate to think that we're giving them the impression that we really take crap factories like Wikipedia seriously.
"That's a wonderful idea, actually, although I don't think I'd call it a library any more. I'd have built it in a third building and left both libraries alone."
And that actually could work pretty well. We'll have to write UT Austin.
"I also can't really think of a reason to build a books-only library. Even a collection of historical books, or an archival collection, should include online finding aids. Of course information is found in books. But there are many reasons to provide access to the Internet and databases as well. To name two: reliable online sources give breaking news on a topic; and if someone's checked a book out, it's inaccessible until (and if) returned, whereas online/database information can be shared among several users."
Okay, I can see that.
I guess my issue is that I'm sort of surrounded by the effects of living in a post-literate culture. Students generally can read, but they don't really understand what they read, don't really read at all, and don't like to read. They will read the internet, but even there, most sites they read are grammatically suspect, simplistic in thought, and tend towards inaccurate information. So, we don't like to assign the internet. The problem I think is that there are plenty of profs who say: "Why should they have to read if they don't want to. Just assign them a movie on DVD!" and plenty of us who say: "It's not our job to encourage the formation of an idiot culture." So, I guess the real question for both academics and librarians is where do we draw the line between living in the modern era and remaining a bullwark against its particular flaws.
"You ask why librarians would be supportive of this trend. If you mean the trend to build bookless libraries, I'd say most librarians -- and certainly all the ones I know -- would be dead set against it, as am I."