umichThe dictionary definition of “library” reads, “a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read, borrow, or refer to.” As far as colleges are concerned, that may be undergoing an update. The Toledo Blade carried a story on the University of Michigan reopening a medical library without any books in it.

“Today’s library can be anywhere, thanks to technology, yet there is still a desire for a physical location that facilitates collaboration, study and learning,” Jane Blumenthal, associate university librarian and Taubman Library director, said in a statement.

The books were moved about two years ago, before construction began. The library includes a realistic simulated clinic and medical students will work with those studying public health, dentistry, pharmacy, social work, nursing and kinesiology — much like they will in their future careers.

The Passive Voice and The Digital Reader chime in with discussion.

It actually does make a lot of sense, especially when you consider the needs of a specialist scientific library. Books on ever-advancing scientific fields are out of date practically as soon as they’re printed. At least electronic material can be kept more current, freed from the prison of wood pulp.

To a lesser extent, this is also true for academic libraries in general. A close friend who is an academic librarian in southern California tells me that almost half of his library’s collection is already electronic, and monthly circulation is generally about a thousand or less—and one of his university’s for-profit competitors has an all-electronic library.

The idea of the bookless library isn’t exactly uncommon in general these days. TeleRead has already posted a number of “bookless library” articles itself. Though if the library has electronic books in its collection, could you really call it “bookless”? Leaving aside all the breathless “look Ma, no paper!” amazement, that’s kind of like saying someone who has an extensive collection of Kindle titles doesn’t own any “books.”


  1. Depressing, very depressing. This isn’t that removed from what Ray Bradbury warned about in Fahrenheit 451. In his case, it was ‘live for the moment’ television replacing the reading of old books. This shift has the latest scientific research replacing older and of necessity printed books, as this remark notes:

    “Books on ever-advancing scientific fields are out of date practically as soon as they’re printed. At least electronic material can be kept more current, freed from the prison of wood pulp.”

    That “prison of wood pulp” is what gives us the perspective of those who lived before us. It assumes there’s no such thing as wisdom, ethics, and painfully acquired experience. It thinks that “ever-advancing scientific fields” consisting of nothing but the latest data and statistics are all that matters. It assumes that professions such as medicine don’t need to be rooted in the profession’s history, that the latest raw facts and the latest interpretations of them are all that matters.

    One illustration of the folly that point of view is all that can be learned from yellowing printed journal articles. During the 1930s, the Journal of the American Medical Association maintained a correspondent in Germany who reported in veiled language how German medicine, then considered the best in the world, was changing under Nazi rule. And after the war, a wide spectrum of academic journals featured articles, many of the by Leo Alexander, special medical consultant to the Nuremberg Trials, that took a retrospective look at medicine under Nazism.

    All that is lost in digital, data-only, system with no interest in a past that’s regarded as of no value. There’s even a name for that impoverishment. In both medicine and nursing, it’s called “evidence-driven” practice. In such a world, only numbers matter not human values.

    I’ve worked in some of the most emotionally intense areas of patient care. I find that attitude chilling. One great understanding from the past is that to be fully human, we need to have heads (intellect), chests (courage and convictions) and hearts (love and compassion). This wrongly attempts to base all medical practice only on the first. It will lead to disaster.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer.

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