Keep books on campus in physical forms, browsing is important!

Ben Brown-Steiner
November 30, 2015

I have recently moved from being a user of the Cornell Library system to the MIT library system, and have noted a few differences that I find to be rather significant. This is one of them:

At Cornell if I wanted to learn about a topic I would look up a single book in the catalogue, go find that book, and then scan the shelf for other books pertaining to that subject. This helped me find books (both new ones and old ones) that I never heard of, and even other editions of books that contain valuable information on what is changing in a particular field over time. At MIT, I have had only moderate success with this technique, and get the impression that the MIT library is much smaller (or perhaps off-site? or mostly digital?).

If it is mostly digital and/or off-site, a straightforward way to digitally browse the collection would be really useful. I could look up a book I know, and quickly find similar books that I do now know about. I find value in this, and believe it's an important method for finding new information.

That being said, I strongly prefer physical copies over digital copies. I see a significant difference between (1) holding a full text and being able to scan each chapter quickly and easily and (2) downloading a pdf or ebook version of one particular chapter and reading it on a screen. I spend so much of my time already in front of screens, and I don't absorb knowledge efficiently this way.

Why do you care about library spaces, collections, and services?: 

I regularly use the library to learn the basics for fields and disciplines at the edges of my knowledge. I use climate models and study atmospheric chemistry, which pushes against many different bodies of knowledge, so I'm constantly trying to define my boundaries and get a grasp of what's at the edges.

I also regularly communicate my science to the public, and find it's very valuable to show them physical books from the MIT library. For instance, I was able to find physical copies of the World Meteorological Organization's Cloud Atlas, which was used and proved to be rather effective during my presentations. A digital copy would not have been nearly as effective.