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Print in the Digital Age: 350,000 Books at Kennedy Library go Unused

… I’m surrounded by all of this information that I’ll probably never use … it almost feels sacrilege.”

First-year liberal studies major, Julia Pennington, has a 10 page research paper due next week. Never mind the fact that she’s had the assignment all quarter and hasn’t started yet, it’s time to go to the only place she can focus: the library.

“I get too in my head when I try to study in my room, the library is great because when I’m tempted to distract myself I see all these people around me studying and it helps keep me on task,” says Pennington.

With roughly 1.5 million visits to Kennedy Library recorded in the 2017-18 school year, Pennington is certainly not alone in her study habits.

But despite hundreds of visits each day, Cal Poly’s campus library has seen a 90 percent decrease in print loans since the year 2000 according to the library’s website.

“To be honest I’ve never even thought about using the stacks of books for anything other than hiding from the crowds during finals week,” says Pennington.

This is not a phenomenon unique to Cal Poly. According to a study conducted by the Association of Research Libraries, there has been a 72 percent decrease in circulations per student since 1995 nationwide.

For her research paper, Pennington had not considered using any print materials in her works cited.

“I’ve heard of professors that force students to use books for their research papers or essays but it seems like such a waste of time when I can find the same information online in seconds,” says Pennington.

In order to keep up with the changing ways that students seek information, Kennedy Library has digitized over 500,000 resources according to the library’s most recent statistics.

“You have to have a bit more patience to use the library database but a lot of times it pays off … it’s a lot easier than reading through an entire book” says Pennington.

As she settles in to write her research paper among the thousands of unused books, Pennington acknowledges the irony.

“It’s kind of funny how I’m surrounded by all of this information that I’ll probably never use,” she says as she powers on her laptop. “It almost feels sacrilege.”

But for now, Pennington has a paper to write and the research books will remain on the shelves.

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