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College Students Just Want Normal Libraries

The Atlantic – Schools have been on a mission to reinvent campus libraries—even though students just want the basics – “So far, the internet has not killed libraries either. But the percentage of higher-education budgets dedicated to libraries has been dwindling since the 1980s, and at many institutions there’s been a corresponding drop in reported spending on print materials while that on electronic resources has grown. Likely in the hopes of proving that they have more to offer than a simple internet connection does, many college libraries are pouring resources into interior-design updates and building renovations, or into “glitzy technology,” such as 3-D printers and green screens, that is often housed in “media centers” or “makerspaces.” The Claremont Colleges’  shared library now has adigital tool shed”—“a technology-rich active-learning center,” according to a 2016 press release previewing the resource, where people are able to “try out innovative pedagogy” such as a data-visualization wall and cutting-edge video- and audio-recording software. Minnesota’s Macalester College library has an “Idea Lab,” which it describes as “a co-working space resembling that of many big tech companies,” where students can needle-felt miniature animals and wear virtual-reality helmets. The goal is, ultimately, to stay relevant and increase appeal. (See: the “Mad Librarian Escape Room” at Goodwin College’s library, which tasks teams of students with salvaging a rare book—a “precious volume!”—via clues they gather in a scavenger hunt.)

Yet much of the glitz may be just that—glitz. Survey data and experts suggest that students generally appreciate libraries most for their simple, traditional offerings: a quiet place to study or collaborate on a group project, the ability to print research papers, and access to books. Notably, many students say they like relying on librarians to help them track down hard-to-find texts or navigate scholarly journal databases. “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers,” as the writer Neil Gaiman once said. “A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

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