World and Nation

Libraries replacing hard-cover books with digital technology

DENVER — A digital revolution is under way at the University of Denver’s Penrose Library, where a $30 million renovation will cut the number of bound books and journals and push the remainder into the basement to create space more friendly to tech-savvy students.

“The renovation will change the building’s functionality from book-storage space to technology-rich people space,” university Chancellor Robert Coombe said.

Like most libraries, Penrose has been increasing the digital content offered in its catalog. Today, the library’s customers have access to 1.7 million digital links — 686,442 of which lead to electronic books that can be checked out to computers or readers, such as the iPad, Kindle or Nook.

E-books have helped to reduce the cost of library acquisitions, said Penrose’s collections librarian Michael Levine-Clark.

Nearly 40 percent of the 126,953 hard-copy books purchased for Penrose between 2000 and 2004 have gone unused. The library can rent e-books and purchase them after they are checked out four times, rather than buy a volume that might never be used.

“This is all about service,” Levine-Clark said. “We can give them wider access to what they really want, instead of guessing at the possible need.”

Other university libraries are doing the same thing: removing hard-copy books from selves and replacing them with digital media.

Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others are reducing their book collections — in some cases drastically. The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Applied Engineering and Technology Library says it has no bound books at all, according to the website Inside Higher Ed.

Public libraries also have begun to invest in their digital collections.

“Our physical collection has not gone down because of digital media, but we are collecting digital media as a format because our customers are asking for it,” said Diane Lapierre, a Denver Public Library spokeswoman. “We are buying both.”

The digitization at the University of Denver is ongoing, but won’t eliminate print products, said library director Nancy Allen. “We are like every library. We are doing a lot to bring the world of digital books to our students and faculty, but that doesn’t mean we abandon our paper collection.”

About 140,000 of the 1.1 million books now on the shelves will go into storage, along with another 1 million or so bound scholarly journals, documents and other materials.