From "Stacks' Appeal," by "Thomas H. Benton" ( a pseudonym):
What does it mean when the University of Texas at Austin removes nearly all of the books from its undergraduate library to make room for coffee bars, computer terminals, and lounge chairs? What are students in those "learning commons" being taught that is qualitatively better than what they learned in traditional libraries?You can read the essay, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, here. (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)
I think the absence of books confirms the disposition to regard them as irrelevant. Many entering students come from nearly book-free homes. Many have not read a single book all the way through; they are instead trained to surf and skim. Teachers increasingly find it difficult to get students to consult printed materials, and yet we are making those materials even harder to obtain. Online journal articles are suitable for searching and extraction, but how conducive is a computer for reading a novel?
I also suspect that retrieval of books in the context of food service and roving helpers inculcates in students a disturbing combination of passivity and entitlement, as if they are diners in a fancy restaurant rather than students doing their homework. The "learning commons" seems consistent with the consumerist model of education that we all recognize: "I deserve an 'A' because I'm paying a lot of money to come here (even if I spend all my time playing video games and hanging out at the new campus fitness center)."