Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Writing on the web for old-school text books

Students' needs increasingly met online but printed books still seen as key

Many students in the university's main library yesterday had a laptop rather than a pile of books. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Many students in the university's main library yesterday had a laptop rather than a pile of books. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Printed books are becoming ornamental at the country's largest university as the number of library loans falls by more than 100,000 each year.

The drop is being outpaced by a growth in the number of digital texts being accessed while the number of electronic books held by the library grew by 113,000 last year, although students are still forking out for costly textbooks.

There were 697,675 loans of printed books and material at the University of Auckland library last year - a drop of 107,465 from 2012, and down from a peak of 1,185,287 in 2005. Head librarian Janet Copsey said the trend was course-dependent, but many students now found that all required readings were available online.

Universities in New Zealand and Australia had moved faster to digital, because a comparative lack of funding meant a choice had to be made sooner, she said.

Studying students filled the desks in the main library yesterday, but many were accompanied by a laptop rather than a pile of books.

Sally Lee, 20, said she never used printed books. "I just use databases when I'm doing any kind of research, it's all online," said the criminology student.

Ms Copsey, a university librarian of 15 years, predicted loans would continue to fall in coming years, but said printed books remained a key part of the library's popularity. "What the research is showing internationally is that students prefer to study in an environment that has books around it, regardless of whether they're using the books; it creates an atmosphere."

Printed materials were still necessary in some subjects such as architecture and fine arts, she said, and students studying literature, say, would still make use of the extensive collection.

The university was buying very few printed books for subjects such as science, engineering and medicine.

"But there are still people who want to look at, say, the old volumes of Nature [scientific journal], which are beautiful." The country's eight university libraries have joined together in a scheme that means when a digital copy exists, only one printed copy between them will be stored.

Physical issues of books and other items at Auckland Council libraries fell by 544,173 to 15,870,308 in the year to March, while digital issues jumped 158 per cent to 377,119.

Gearing up for greater digital needs

The rapid uptake of e-books has coincided with a burst of planning for new Auckland libraries that make use of flexible spaces to better meet customers' needs.

Four new libraries, due to open in the next 18 months, will reflect the changes in focus for modern services, said regional libraries and information manager Allison Dobbie.

The digital library will be the area of most growth and change over the next decade.

It is a shift that will put the library in every pocket via mobile phones and raise the expectation that library services were available 24/7.

"We need to be taking on a broader view of possibilities as what the library of the future might be and what customers might be looking for and whether that is even more multi-purpose activity than we are providing for," said Ms Dobbie.

"Our libraries are receiving as many visitors as ever, with people coming for many different purposes.

"For a while, people thought the internet would replace libraries but the evidence is very strongly that it's created a new and different demand for access to information and help to actually get that information."

People also visit the library to connect with other people face-to-face.

A lot of community groups use libraries for meetings and people come to learn from tutors or lectures, to browse and to read or listen to something from the collection.

After school programmes help children with homework.

Librarians hold classes for 1600 people daily to teach them information-seeking and digital skills.

The first library in Auckland to roll out the new flexible space and community use focus will be Waiheke Island's $5.1 million project, which opens in late July.
- Wayne Thompson

Moving to digital

Total library loans of printed books/material at the University of Auckland:

2005 1,185,287
2011 911,527
2012 805,140
2013 697,675

Source: The University of Auckland

- NZ Herald

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