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University Libraries adapt to changing research

As fewer students use books, University Libraries is upping its online offerings.
Students using laptops while studying next to a collection of offline resources on Sunday at Walter Library.
Image by Holly Peterson
Students using laptops while studying next to a collection of offline resources on Sunday at Walter Library.

Florescent lights cast a shadow upon rows of unused bookshelves in the Bio-Medical Library as students instead study their computer screens.

Technology is transforming the University of Minnesota Libraries. Students use more online reference materials than ever before, according to a University Libraries survey. For students, online sources for studying or researching are becoming the norm, while print materials collect dust.

University Libraries are revamping how they offer materials as students rely more on the Internet. One way of responding to the demand is by expanding online databases from existing materials.

In January, students will have access to more print and online materials through MNCAT Discovery — a categorized search system on the University Libraries’ website.

Mary Schoenborn, libraries liaison to the Humphrey School and Carlson School of Management, said the University is buying access to more materials so Discovery can be a “one-stop shop” for research.

Students can find some online materials through library databases now, but not as many as the upgraded MNCAT Discovery will offer.

Online sources aren’t necessarily less reliable than books, she said. Students can find trustworthy sources online, although they may have to pay a fee to view the documents.

Online search tools will save students time, she said.

Accessing print materials is time-consuming because students need to go to a library, figure out which book they need and see if it’s available, Schoenborn said.

Physiology freshman Kelly Zwilling said she prefers using online sources because they’re easier to access anytime, anywhere.

A year ago, fewer online resources were available. Students had to search for online materials on their own or find print sources.

“For the most part, it’s easy for students to access [print] reference materials,” microbiology senior Nathan Kemp said.

“Sometimes there is one copy of a book in high demand, and that can make it harder for students.”

Kemp has worked as a student librarian in the University’s Walter Library for about four years. He estimated that on average, four or five students check out books and print materials each hour.

Usually, he said, students use the library’s books to study for finals or do homework. Books offer more details than most online articles, but online sources have more recent information and can help clarify ideas.

“Personally, I rarely need to reference books,” Kemp said. “In some cases, the information may not be completely up-to-date.”

Freshman Nicholas Rodriguez said he used Google Scholar to find reliable articles for his writing class.

“It’s much easier to find an article online than to go through a bunch of newspapers,” he said.

Zwilling said she would likely use online sources for the majority of her career but would source books if they were required for upper-level courses.

But some students may opt for both print and online works, depending on the rigor of the course.

“I think it’s better to use a little of both,” Kemp said. “Start with assigned course material for research or studying. But if you need to clarify something, online sources are helpful.”


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