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Campus libraries in Oklahoma work to adapt to technology, changing student needs

Decades ago, students went to campus libraries mostly to borrow books or find a quiet place to study. But as technology develops, students are looking to the same libraries for a wider variety of purposes at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
by Silas Allen Published: April 15, 2013

“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.”

Space concerns

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.”

by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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