When a court order halted Google's efforts to digitize every book in the world last March, a number of institutions and non-profit organizations stepped in to take on the project.
According to a survey of college librarians published by Inside Higher Ed in April, most would remove print sources from their libraries if a reliable digital alternative was available. But while Brown's reliance on electronic resources has increased in recent years, librarians here say the University is not currently moving toward a paperless future.
"To date, Brown has not chosen to systematically digitize (its) collections," University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi wrote in an email to The Herald. "Rather, we do selective digitization of our collections to support specific teaching and research needs."
In the short term, digital resources are frequently more expensive than books, said Edwin Quist, associate University librarian for research and outreach services. But getting rid of print sources frees up space for other uses and saves on the upkeep costs in the long run, he said.
Brown has considered joining digitization initiatives, including a consortium of over 50 institutions and libraries called the HathiTrust Digital Library, Quist said. HathiTrust works to preserve the "cultural record" through digitizing and distributing electronic titles, according to the organization's website. The Authors' Guild — an advocacy group protecting authors against illegal use of their texts — filed a lawsuit Monday charging HathiTrust with widespread copyright violations, according to an Inside Higher Ed article.
Though Brown has not decided whether to join HathiTrust, it has partnered with other institutions to share both print and digital resources, including many of those made available by the initiative.
Borrow Direct, a consortium including the eight Ivy League schools and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, provides each school access to the books in all of the schools' library systems, Quist said. Though Borrow Direct currently deals almost exclusively with print sources, Quist said he thinks the initiative may include digital projects in the future.
About 65 percent of the Library's budget goes to digital sources — including journal subscriptions, e-books and databases — according to David Banush, associate University librarian for access services. Less than half that amount, about 24 percent, is spent on books. The budget share spent on print journals has declined substantially, from 25 percent of the budget four years ago to about 10 percent now.
Loren Fulton '12, a Herald editorial cartoonist, said he has noticed professors' increased preference for digital sources in class. "It's always great when the professor has readings on (Online Course Reserves Access)," he said. "It's cheaper for us and easier."
Despite the benefits of digitization, there are limitations to having resources available only electronically, said Mimi Dwyer '13.
"I'd much rather read a book than read it online," she said. Though she often ends up reading sources electronically due to the limited printing budget the University allocates each student, she said it is hard for her to absorb what she is reading when she is not reading print.
Though libraries on campus are nowhere near being fully digitized, there is one place on campus where digital resources have completely won out — the new library at the Alpert Medical School. The library primarily features electronic resources.
In other spots around campus, the change is evident as well.
"If you look around the Rock, you'll see a lot of seating areas that used to be stack areas," Quist said. And at the Sciences Library, he said, many areas where there were reference books and journals are now used for study spaces, computing clusters and spaces for audio-visual equipment.