We have all heard speculation about libraries of the future, and how they will look and function for their users. Here is a different concept for the future of academic libraries. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has developed a plan to eventually close 22 smaller special libraries in favor of creating six “hubs.” The plan will occur over the next 20-25 years, and cut collection space by 62 percent. The idea is that this will more accurately reflect how the library is being used, since students and faculty “prefer to access materials digitally and to work in groups across disciplines,” according to library officials. The other age-old premise is that since so many materials are available online, this will free up floor space and give library staff a chance to really focus on helping researchers. That sounds like a worthwhile idea, but other parts of the plan lead to more questions.
I am for improving libraries, but I cannot say I entirely agree with the university’s plan. The assumption that everything is going to be available online baffles me. While digital access to specialized materials has improved, some things will remain offline. As anyone who has worked in a special library knows, some materials are so unique that they are not going to be found elsewhere, and to digitize them would be an expensive task. Despite that, certain materials might benefit from a large digitization project, so perhaps the university should make more of an effort in that regard.
What archival collections are in these special libraries? They still have some value, but will likely be relegated to off-site storage (let’s hope). No doubt student and faculty use of libraries has evolved, but to cut collections by 62 percent seems drastic. That’s a lot of materials that will be rendered inaccessible. As Aadland’s article points out, this is not helpful for certain disciplines like history or social science, and I would also add art to that list. The university used a consultancy firm to develop this plan. It’s called Brightspot Strategy; they claim to “re-imagine places, rethink services, and redesign organizations so that people have remarkable experiences.” Was anyone with a library background involved in the process? Organizations do need overhauls at times, but I question if this proposed plan is as well thought out as it claims to be.
 Beckie Supiano, “Why One University Wants to Close Lots of Small Libraries and Create ‘Hubs’,” December 08, 2017, The Chronicle of Higher Education, https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-One-University-Wants-to/242019
 Chris Aadland, “UW-Madison library plan would create six ‘hubs,’ close 22 libraries and reduce collection space,”
Dec 8, 2017, Wisconsin State Journal, http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/university/uw-madison-library-plan-would-create-six-hubs-close-libraries/article_0822c3ed-9288-5ef1-bc82-40facfc203df.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=user-share