It’s Happening: Bookless Library Opens at Florida Polytechnic University

| September 24, 2014

At Florida Polytechnic University’s new library, students can check out over 135,000 licensed ebooks, but not a single physical book is included in the collection.  This is striking for many reasons, but especially from a collection development perspective: when students check out an ebook more than twice, the book is automatically purchased.  Using student data as an indicator for purchasing decisions isn’t revolutionary, but the automated process at which books, and ebooks, are purchased seems uncommon.   In an article at The Guardian, director of libraries Kathryn Miller says this procedure allows students “to make direct choices regarding the books they want to read and have available in the library”.

Though FPU currently has access to over 14,000 physical books, it has not made plans to utilize these materials in what appears to be an effort to maintain a wholly digital collection.  As Sharon Riley notes in her feature on the new bookless library in Library Journal, libraries like FPU remain “so rare as to be mostly a novelty”.  The debate over the inclusion of technology in libraries is long over; however, upgrading library technology requires librarians to weigh all resources available and select materials that best meet patron needs.  Excluding thousands of titles from the collection not only limits the information made available to students, but also forces these materials into the supposed antiquity that originally excluded them from the collection.

Across digital librarianship, we must continue to examine whether drastic moves to digital material best meets the needs of patrons, or if it serves another function.  Miller explains in an interview with NPR that FPU aims to prepare students for the “high-tech workforce” as the consistent justification for excluding physical materials from the new library.  The difference between academic research and a career in the tech industry seem obvious, with the ability to be fluent in both digital and traditional information gathering critical to success in a transitioning society.