Decades ago, college students went to campus libraries mostly to borrow books or find a quiet place to study.
But as new technology develops, students are looking to the same libraries for a wider variety of purposes, including meeting with study groups and working on collaborative projects.
Now, campus library officials are looking for ways to meet those needs, including making more materials available online and making better use of building space.
“In a way, we've created a library well beyond the building,” said Rick Luce, the University of Oklahoma's dean of libraries.
OU and Oklahoma State University have begun developing master plans to make sure their libraries are able to serve the students who are using them.
OU's Bizzell Memorial Library works for students who want to come to the library to study individually, Luce said. But those students are dwindling in numbers, he said.
About 80 percent of the university's academic journals are available online, he said, and the university is making greater use of e-books. So students who need to study individually increasingly don't need to set foot in the building — the library offers all the materials they need online.
“It extends the library to wherever the student is,” he said.
Although fewer students are using the library for individual study, he said, students still come to the library to work on group projects. Collaborative class projects are more common than they were in previous decades, Luce said. Even when collaboration isn't required, many students meet in informal study groups to prepare for exams.
But the library isn't set up well for those students, Luce said. It's furnished with big, heavy tables that aren't designed to be moved. If students do find a space where they can all sit, there usually aren't enough power outlets for all their laptops.
As it exists today, the library is based around the outdated conception of libraries as places to take out books and read. While that definition may have been correct 30 years ago, Luce said, it's too narrow to fit the way students use libraries today.
That isn't to say students never use the library as a quiet study space, Luce said. The library's Great Reading Room is still a popular place for students to work. Luce said he thinks part of the appeal of the room is that seeing a room full of other students poring over textbooks reinforces the decision to study.
Although the library's master plan is in the beginning stages, Luce said he expects it will include a number of areas students can use for different purposes. One area will provide quiet study space, while another will have lighter tables and chairs that students can push together or move around to work in groups. That area will provide the space for collaboration that the library lacks today, he said.
“We need to be able to support that in the library,” he said.
At OSU's Edmon Low Memorial Library, the space needed to house the library's millions of print volumes has expanded over the decades, taking over space that was once left for students and faculty to sit and do work, said Sheila Johnson, OSU's dean of libraries.
The library was built in 1953 and expanded in 1968 to hold 2 million print volumes. Today, the library holds 3.3 million volumes, creating space issues, Johnson said.
“Our building now is jammed,” she said. “All of our shelves are filled from the bottom shelves to the top shelves.”
While the library has seen a steady decline in circulation for physical copies of books and other texts, Johnson said it's placing greater emphasis on electronic materials. OSU was an early adopter of electronic-only versions of academic journals, Johnson said.
That decision was partly because of space concerns, she said. Electronic journals provided an attractive cost base, she said — the university could get more titles for the same price it paid for fewer print copies, and in many cases they could be used by multiple students at once.
Because those journals are available electronically, Johnson said, there's less need to store them in the library. OSU officials are looking to build a new library storage facility on Hall of Fame Avenue near the Physical Plant Building and expect to break ground this summer.
Like the university's existing North Boomer Access on Boomer Road, the new building would store books and other materials that are available electronically.
Anyone who needed the physical copy of a book or other document could request it and have it delivered, usually within a day, Johnson said.
Moving some of the library's materials to the new building will open up more of the library's space for other uses, like study areas and group meeting spaces, she said.
Although technology has eliminated some of the need for the library as a repository for journals and other materials, Johnson said it's still a central point on campus where students congregate.
“People don't need to get to the library to get their material,” she said. “But our students come to the library because they tell us it's inviting.”