By: Mohammad Basit Khan and Wasay Ali
Are physical books really a thing of the past? In an era dominated by technology, e-books are all the rage, especially in academic institutions. Fears of obsolescence exist, yet libraries continue to be an integral part of university campuses. Instead, the inevitable has surfaced, in the way of collaboration, as a growing number of reputable universities all across the globe move towards digitization of libraries. At LUMS, the Gad & Birgit Rausing Library continues to thrive as printed books remain at the core of its services. A digitization project has been spotted at the horizon. However, budget constraints, infrastructural limitations, and user preferences on campus appear to be some major hurdles.
The merits of digitizing the library make the case for its need. The first and most prominent is eliminating the flaws inherent to physical books. The costs of maintaining these books, especially rare collections, can be greatly reduced by converting them to digital copies. In addition, the risk of damaging these fairly valuable physical copies can also be done away with. This process can be further extended to incorporate an environment conservation effort for future additions to the library.
Moreover, digitization can make the library’s collection extremely easy to access for the student body at large. Currently, the library’s online portal allows an effectively infinite period of issuance through reissuances, however, extending this period is disallowed in case the issued material is also requested by another user. This can be a genuine issue for students, especially those working on lengthy research projects, but it can be circumvented if a digital copy is available for use at all times. Furthermore, access to the library’s collection can be provided to other universities in the region in an effort to promote academic advancement among other institutions as well.
In regard to certain pressing demands put forward by the community, digitizing the library creates the possibility for paving the way for a lot more empty space to accommodate a larger amount of students. Libraries all around the world face a trade off between study space for students and space to store books. Digitization, would effectively mean a centre ground can be found and study space can be significantly increased to cater to the increased demand along with providing users the essential academic resources they are in need of online – while physical copies can be kept “on call” inside remote storage.
Nonetheless, in the case of LUMS, complete digitization of the library appears difficult to achieve. An excessively large initial cost needs to be incurred for the project to be implemented. In comparison, the amount of financial support currently required for the maintenance of physical books is minimal. Introducing and supporting the program could mean a significant outlay in an already burdened budget.
Additionally, extensive research on campus still points to the fact that the students largely tend to prefer printed books. Kash Kumar ‘22 says, “Hard copies are a lot more convenient both to carry and read.” Referring to the prescription eyeglasses he wears, Kumar ‘22 says, “Reading off of a screen for a long time can also be difficult.”
The reason why many startups like Oyebook that deal in print versions of our course packs are thriving is primarily due to the students preferring hard copies of books for academic purposes. Moreover, the number of books checked out of the library every year is increasing exponentially according to Nadeem Sidique, senior manager of the library.
Reservations regarding whether or not the perpetually underperforming IST department will be able to deal with the additional load a digitized library presents persist. In times when IST finds it hard to resolve petty issues like an underperforming wireless network, throwing another bulk of responsibility onto them presents a serious risk.
Despite the compulsion to adapt to the times and the positive changes that digitization of the library can bring on campus, it is important for the administration and the community as a whole to understand the unique institutional limitations that LUMS faces. Further, the matter of preferences on campus also plays a large role in shaping the need for such a project and needs to be taken into account along with the stability of the supporting IT infrastructure. However, the process of library digitization is a fairly uncommon phenomenon in Pakistan and LUMS could attempt to find an opportunity to pioneer this development in academia.