Shelfless … Florida Polytechnic University's new library. Photograph: Rocket Science Photography/ The Guardian
There are no dusty bookshelves or piles of textbooks in the library of Florida's newest university. Welcoming its first students this week, Florida Polytechnic University's new library houses not a single physical book, reports The Guardian.
Instead, its inaugural class of 500 will have access to around 135,000 ebooks. "Our on-campus library is entirely digital," said director of libraries Kathryn Miller. "We have access to print books through the state university system's interlibrary loan program. However, we strongly encourage our students to read and work with information digitally."
The 11,000 square-foot library is situated within a huge, white-domed building, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Eschewing physical books, it is a bright, open space featuring computer terminals, desks, and comfortable spots to read.
A budget of $60,000 (£36,000) has also been set aside for students to read ebooks that the library doesn't already own. Once a book has been viewed twice on this system, it will be automatically purchased. The set-up, said Miller, "allows for many more books to be available for the students, and the university only has to pay when the student or faculty member uses the book", allowing students "to make direct choices regarding the books they want to read and have available in the library".
The new university offers courses exclusively in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and Miller said that one of its objectives was to "prepare students for the high-tech workforce by giving them hands-on experience with advanced technology".
"The ability to read, absorb, manage and search digital documents and conduct digital research are skills of growing importance in industry," she said, with the new digital-only library "designed to help students become better technology users and learners".
The bookless library is not the first in America: Library Journal also cites a bookless public library in Bexar County, Texas, a school library in Minnesota and two NASA libraries. But it is, according to the magazine, highly unusual. "So far, while the steady shift from print to digital formats is well under way, legacy print collections mean that fully bookless libraries are still so rare as to be mostly a novelty," it writes.
Carrie Russell, a policy analyst for the American Library Association, told Reuters that "digital in some ways is better. People can find things easier, and they can discover more things by accident".
But the move was not universally welcomed. An opinion piece in Florida paper the Tampa Bay Times is headlined "a Luddite laments", and sees the author quote Kathleen McCook, a "professor of librarianship" at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "Maybe it reflects the digital life today, but I don't think in the long run it's going to give people the same quality of experience," she told the paper, stating her concern that "that very quiet and intimate connection between people and the printed word" could be lost, and adding: "It's just not going to give people the serendipitous experience of walking though shelves of books – a tremendous rite of passage."