Read: A snapshot of a 21st-century librarian Maybe students aren’t checking the books out but are still consulting them regularly within the library? Many libraries also track such in-house uses, by tallying the books that need to be reshelved, and the trends are the same.
At my library at Northeastern University, undergraduate circulations declined 50 percent from 2013 to 2017—before we decided to do our own book relocation—and our logged number of books removed from shelves but not checked out also dropped by half.
Although many of these volumes stand ready for immersive, cover-to-cover reading, others await rarer and often brief consultations, as part of a larger network of knowledge.
Even many monographs, carefully and slowly written by scholars, see only very sporadic consultation, and it is not uncommon for the majority of college collections to be unused for a decade or more.
These stark statistics present a conundrum for those who care about libraries and books.
At the same time that books increasingly lie dormant, library spaces themselves remain vibrant—Snell Library at Northeastern now receives well over 2 million visits a year—as retreats for focused study and dynamic collaboration, and as sites of an ever wider array of activities and forms of knowledge creation and expression, including, but also well beyond, the printed word.
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