Drexel University Library Learning Terrace

Time magazine just announced the news: “the bookless library has finally arrived.”

Last month Drexel University opened their new “Library Learning Terrace,” offering students 24-hour access to the university’s 170 million e-books, digital newspapers, magazine and journal articles, and other educational material. Everything, that is, except printed books. The Philadelphia unversity’s Dean of Libraries says the facility will let them “define a new library environment,” and they’re now considering the idea of building even more book-free learning hubs across the campus.

But they’re not the only university library without printed books. Ten years ago, Kansas State University got rid of most the books in their engineering library, according to Time‘s article. And it also notes that last year Stanford “pruned all but 10,000 printed volumes from its new engineering library,” and that San Antonio’s “ditched print in lieu of electronic material when it opened its engineering library in 2010.”

Of course, it’s only a few examples — but it suggests a big question for the future. As students get more comfortable with digital texts, will campus libraries begin stocking their shelves with e-books? Imagine a magical world where nothing’s ever overdue, and there’s always an endless number of copies for every single book. Plus, even the bookshelves could be eliminated, replaced with a few remote book servers. It’d leave more room for desks and tables for studying — some of which would inevitably be equipped with special screens for displaying e-books!

We may be witnessing the start of the book-free era without even realizing it – but at Drexel University, they celebrated with a party. It had its grand opening just last month, according to the library’s web page, with over 250 attendees marking the occasion. “As the crowd counted three, two, oneā€¦the shades of the Terrace were drawn and the attendees saw the new Terrace for the first time,” remembers a post on the library’s blog. It happened at twilight, as “their wrists aglow, the sighting of the first star kicked-off the opening remarks.” (Glow sticks had been passed out to the attendees, according to a description on Flickr, which adds that the festivities also included a DJ and snacks.) There were also prize give-aways, according to the university’s student newspaper, which reported a handful of lucky students were chosen “to have the honor of being the first to enter the facility.”

It’s stirred up a debate this week in the comments at Time magazine. “There is no guarantee that technology we use ten, twenty or fifty years from now will be capable of accessing the data we currently have stored on our CDs, DVDs, servers and hard drives,” posted one reader. But another comment argued that the only real issue was fear of change. “No one was up in arms when music began to go digital vs physical, we are seeing the same with movies, so why is this so shocking when it come to literary work?” And another comment agreed, arguing much of the resistence is “an entirely emotional and nostalgic reaction. Future generations will be just as inspired by the media they encounter; it’s the content, not the format, that counts.”

And whatever else you can say about Drexel’s new book-free library — it looks really nice!

Drexel University Library Learning Terrace picture

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