Library collections are moving from paper to cyberspace and can be accessed on a growing list of electronic devices, from iPads to Kindles.

Virginia Tech researcher Emmanuel Frimpong and his team took two years to compile a database of biological traits of 809 U.S. freshwater fish species for a project funded in part by the U.S. Geological Survey.

But the team needed a new service at Tech’s Newman library to help them honor a commitment to the USGS to make that online database available to other scientists.

“I don’t think researchers across campus are aware of this service the library can provide,” Frimpong said.

Welcome to the modern research university library, where new skills and even new spaces are being developed to serve the needs of scholars, scientists, and students working in the digital age.

From a digital-ready classroom to furniture reminiscent of the starship Enterprise, library officials say they are developing new ways to serve their campus, and the public at large.

As libraries transform for the digital age, “it’s an exciting time,” said Judy Ruttenberg of the Association of Research Libraries, a membership and advocacy organization for 125 of the nation’s largest research libraries, including the Library of Congress.

“When university libraries housed large print collections and people had to come there to use them, that was a different model. Now students, scholars, and researchers have many options, and the library serves in a different way,” Ruttenberg said.

To keep research libraries relevant amid the rapid expansion of web-based information, Tech officials are using architects and student advisory committees to develop spaces and services that draw the campus into the library.

More and more print books and journals are shifting out of library buildings and are being replaced by digital classrooms, sequestered study rooms, and open areas for all kinds of group and individual work. Library collections are moving from paper to cyberspace and can be accessed on a growing list of electronic devices, from iPads to Kindles.

The turning point came in April 2011, said Tyler Walters, dean of Tech’s libraries. That was the year Amazon.com reported selling more eBooks than print books.

Walters came to Blacksburg, Va., two years ago from Georgia Tech and said he is working to “leapfrog” Virginia Tech’s library into the digital age.

In 2008, Tech offered 157,000 eBooks to patrons. Today, that collection has grown to a half-million, said Brian Mathews, associate dean of the library.

The portion of the budget spent on digital collections has increased from about 60 percent in 2008, to 80 percent today, Mathews said.

(Next page: Implications of these changes for students—and researchers)


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