Virtual libraries are the way of the future

Students at the new Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland showed up to the new campus library last week and found something missing: the books. 

FPU, the newest addition to the State University System of Florida, has decided to go Space Age with an entirely digital library. While it may seem they are stepping too far into the cyber world, the benefits could outweigh what seems like a nostalgic loss. 

In 2012 there was a 28.1 percent increase in e-book sales over the previous year, raking in $282.3 million compared to the $299.8 million in adult paperback sales, which saw a 10.5 percent decrease from the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers. 

Technology is no longer the luxury it once was. CNN reports that 90 percent of Americans, age 18 to 75, own a smartphone, laptop, tablet or e-book reader, meaning that students won’t necessarily be spending more to access course materials. 

While mobility and access are obvious advantages to electronic textbooks, many overlook the fact that a lot of e-books have interactive features for supplemental instruction. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), e-books allow teachers to customize the text to complement the state standards. The NSF also reports that digital text is a flexible means of learning for students with impaired vision and those who are learning a second language. 

Electronic books are winning the race economically, as well. 

On Amazon, one can buy “The Everyday Writer,” a staple in composition courses at USF, at $67.50 for the physical book. However, the electronic version is listed at $50.99, a trend that is fairly standard across the board, according to technology blogger Alex Sharp. 

The USF Library also offers a resource allowing students to request required or recommended reading be purchased through the Library in electronic format. The objective of the program is to reduce the cost of textbooks for students through unlimited electronic access. 

At the end of fiscal year 2011-12, USF held 2.3 million books, serial backfiles and other paper materials on the Tampa campus alone. The USF Library currently owns 541,243 e-books and 52,502 e-journals, available to faculty, students and staff, showing that while print is still dominant, digital material is making a dent in the resources available to students. 

Polytechnic’s library serves as a preview of what books could be heading toward in the future. Solely digital libraries might be far off for many institutions, but there is a cyber shift occurring. As technology advances, bibliophiles everywhere may be forced to say goodbye to the stacks and enter an LCD world. 

Brandon Shaik is a senior majoring in psychology.