Florida Polytechnic University features a bookless library

by Public Libraries on August 29, 2014

Data center

The newest public university in Florida is trying something a little different with its 11,000 square-foot structure – going totally green. Florida Polytechnic University, located in Lakeland is taking a bold step by offering a digital catalog of 135,000 ebooks. Paper books will not be offered at the fully digital library.

FPU, which is not yet an accredited school, has an enrollment of 550 students in its inaugural class. Students are encouraged to do all of their research online. The library has several printers on the premises but students are discouraged from using them.

Kathryn Miller, director of libraries said it’s not how information is obtained but what is discovered that matters most. Once students are out of college they must be able to track down information and apply it in both a scholarly and professional way.

The newly-finished massive dome structure was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who has a reputation of blending advanced engineering solutions with dramatic visual statements.

Digital resources in an academic library are not unusual but it is extremely rare however to have a bookless library in the United States. The first bookless public library opened in San Antonio just last year. The emphasis on digital books points to the University’s strong desire to increase technology standards within the area.

Florida Polytechnic sought advice from similar libraries including NASA and the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

One would assume that with an increase in technology, the need for a library staff would be minimal. This is not the case, there is still a need to direct students to the correct resources and train them on how to properly use digital equipment.

The library relies on students having digital access to a smartphone, laptop, or tablet. FPU as a whole still allows students to purchase traditional textbooks from campus bookstores. Digital textbooks are preferred when available.

Paper books, while discouraged, can be requested on loan from Florida’s 11 other public university libraries.

Florida Polytechnic knew going digital would be expensive having budgeted $60,000 toward the endeavor. The software used for the ebooks allows students to browse through the book once for free. FPU would then be charged for the ebook if browsed through more than once.

Miller said this gives students a real choice in the matter rather than having a librarian place a book on the shelf that many students would deem irrelevant.

Carrie Russell, a policy analyst for the American Library Association believes digital makes browsing much simpler for the students. With everything at their fingertips, it makes it easier for the student to discover something new and enjoyable.

She said there are downsides, including the difficulty of preserving information in an ever-changing technological environment. It is also gets tricky with licensing agreements that require annual payments rather than owning the digital information outright.

Russell said a reference book could sit on the book shelf for 120 years with just the initial payment, whereas you may have to pay a yearly fee for digital titles, which can get expensive.

Florida Polytechnic received traditional books when the university first formed, but it decided to donate the books to an off-campus library which is shared by a local community college.

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