The role of a library in the digital age

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Some of the library’s first visitors get a tour. Photo: UCSB Library

The newly renovated UCSB Library, which had not undergone any changes in more than 35 years, opened its doors last week. Within the 60,000 square feet of new space lies diverse work spaces, more electrical outlets, group study rooms, a cafe and specialized areas for data-intensive projects and special-collection storage.

“The design of the building is intended to affirm the library’s position as the legitimate crossroads of the campus,” said University Librarian Denise Stephens.

Within the 20 years it has taken to complete this project, educators have seen a dramatic change in not only how information is accessed and presented, but how today’s learners interact with that information.

“They are increasingly collaborative in their study, their discussion about study and their way of socializing with the institution,” said Stephens. “This new space is all about people.”

New Library: Opening Week
Click right for slideshow. Photos: UCSB Library

One third of the new three-story building is dedicated to high security, environmentally controlled storage of unique and rare collections. Large maps, emulsion based materials like film, glass cylinder sound recordings, an antique bible collection and many other treasures are all being preserved behind closed doors. The public can request to handle these items within the special research collections area on the third floor.

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Special collections like rare maps and antique bibles are being preserved in climate controlled storage rooms. Photos: Kathryn Barnes

However, there’s one component the new wing of the library visibly lacks: rows and rows of books. Aside from a few discipline-specific collections, most physical literature remains in the old section of the UCSB library, connected to the new addition by a bridge on the second floor.

“The greatest change we’ve seen in the last couple of decades has been the proliferation of digital content, and you see that represented here,” said Stephens. “The physical library will never grow as quickly as they did in the 19th and 20th centuries. In some disciplines, books will always be central to what people do. We have to figure out how to work with both those realities in the same space.”