University libraries seeing fewer reference texts on the shelves

La Crosse (WXOW) — The Associated Press reported Wednesday that more and more academic libraries at universities are seeing reference materials shift from print to digital. That shift is causing libraries across the nation to remove old, seldom-used books at a faster pace.

On a local level, most believe that the actual brick and mortar libraries are not going anywhere anytime soon, however they did notice that fewer new reference texts are released in print.

"In universities, [scientific] journals are very important," said Catherine Lavallee-Welch, UW-L Murphy Library’s Director. "Almost all of the journals that we get now are electronic."

Those copies now live in the cloud instead of on the shelves and it puts a library’s collection management in a place where they have to decide what to do with old or outdated material.

"There is always new information that is out there that we want to acquire," said Lavallee-Welch. "So it’s a balance of what needs to be kept and what can be gently taken away from the library."

Old texts are usually re-sold, given to other libraries or recycled. Public libraries have also seen the newer shift towards virtual bookshelves, but for now they say it’s not having a major effect.

"Not everybody uses it, but it’s definitely a larger segment of our patron base than it used to be," said Megan Losborough, a reference librarian at Onalaska Public Library. "Most people who do do digital books also do print so people don’t go one way or the other, they usually do both. I think they both have great purpose and utility for readers."

That process of removing old, non-circulating texts and bringing in something new is called "weeding", and it’s not a new thing for libraries. However with more and more texts going digital, some of the older prints are starting to stack up. 

Murphy Library said they are not at a place yet where a massive amount of text needs to be removed, but the nature of the library is changing to more of a gathering place instead of purely functioning as a warehouse for books.

"We do a lot of programming and interaction with the students, so I don’t think we’re going anywhere anytime soon," Lavallee-Welch said.

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