Alumni returning to visit their universities may have a hard time recognizing one of the most important part of any academic institution: the library.
“The whole concept of an academic library is rapidly changing right now,” said Anne Peters, director of library communications at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
On Sept. 9, UTSA hosted an official kickoff event to showcase its newest study room, GroupSpot. More than just a quiet space to review material, GroupSpot incorporates technology with group learning.
About 20 computer stations comprise Groupspot. At each station, five laptops connect to a central television that can show one to five different screens. The school hopes this will facilitate collaboration. A $100,000 grant from the Hearst Foundation provided funds for the new state-of-the-art facility.
This isn’t the first time UTSA has taken steps to provide a more tech-savvy learning environment.
In 2010, the university was first in the nation to house a completely bookless library, the Applied Engineering and Technology (AET) Library, on a college campus. Geared towards science and engineering students, the AET Library features more than 425,000 e-books, 50,000 e-journal subscriptions and 470 databases that students access through library computers.
Both the kickoff event and new study room share a common theme of targeting Millennials.
Ryan Schoensee is a graduate student and communication specialist for UTSA. He manages the library’s social media accounts and helps organize events for students.
“When you look at students coming in, you run into Millennials as the majority, and that’s our target audience,” he said.
Students at the event easily connected to the system and learned its features. Some even took selfies to share on the collaborate screen.
“I don’t even think about checking out books. I have the PDF versions,” said UTSA mechanical engineering major Carlos Gaytam.
Gaytam, like many of today’s students, rarely visits the third and fourth floors of the UTSA library where the traditional stacks of books can be found. Instead, he makes use of the school’s technological resources. By connecting his tablet to UTSA’s GroupSpot stations, Gaytam is able to virtually share notes with his peers, who in turn can edit documents and work out difficult math problems as a group.
The shift towards more technology has been a steadily growing trend. In 2011 Amazon announced that its sells more ebooks than print books, prompting many to question whether or not print is becoming obsolete.
“For students studying architecture or art, it really makes sense to look at print,” said Peters. “I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of books, but we’re certainly spending a lot of time and attention on technology. We really have to rethink what we’re all about. It’s not just about having big collections anymore.”
The role of librarians within academic libraries has changed as well. Rather than helping students look for a certain book or restocking shelves, librarians now spend their time helping students sift through online resources. According to Peters, students have a wealth of information at their fingertips, but often find it difficult to determine a credible source.
“It’s almost overwhelming (to students). It’s a challenge to not get lost in the resources,” said Peters.
While technology is bringing students together and changing what it means to be a library, it may inspire a sense of nostalgia for paper texts. One thing that Peters thinks students may miss — the browsing experience — may be a thing of the past.
“A lot of folks really value that. Getting to walk down a stack of shelves and discovering something you may have otherwise missed,” she said.
*Featured image: Students study in the laptop lounge located near the entrance of UTSA’s library. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.