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Barry’s Books Be Gone: Making Way for a Modern or Postliterate Society?

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

By Brianna Lopez

BarryU Senior Jasmin Brooks. Photo Credit to Amanda Gonzalez Garcia.

The Monsignor William Barry Memorial Library is officially getting a makeover as library officials work to renovate the space to become a “living-learning-library.”

Renovations began in January 2022, with the first step being the weeding out of many books throughout the library. When you walk into Barry’s library—dubbed by many as the heart of the campus—you will see large empty spaces where books used to be.

This process of weeding is common at many universities and had not been done at Barry in 20 years, according to Dr. Jan Figa, director of library services on Barry’s campus.

Florida State College at Jacksonville updated their weeding criteria last May. Dalton State College in Georgia and Texas A&M University at Galveston have similar policies. In fact, since 2016, Texas A&M has mandated that books be removed if they have not been checked out in more than three years.

Figa noted that Barry, like other universities, is weeding out books in order to “have a current collection that meets the needs of students and faculty.”

Replacing the books on the library’s second floor will be a Pedro Pan Exhibit of Cuban diaspora as well as the Barry University Scholarship Showcase (BUSS). It will display student and faculty research, including papers and multimedia presentations.

Photo Credit to Pexels

The “technology-infused rebuild” of the library will reflect Barry’s motto of “learn, reflect, and serve,” according to Figa.

The second (or main) floor will be the gateway—the place to learn and create knowledge.

The third floor will be the connector—the place to reflect and collaborate.

Finally, the fourth floor will be the agora— the place for students to learn by leading, researching, testing, and sharing.

“This agora, this marketplace of ideas, is that a student can come in and can go ‘Wow, I didn’t know that this was possible here,’” said Figa. “I know [the books] are really important, but that’s the finished product, and that’s somebody else. I want to know: what did we do? Because how can you be excited about a place if it’s always talking about somebody else?”

Through the new library, Figa hopes students will go from consumers of information to producers. Weeding out some books will also allow for more tables and more collaborative spaces for students to work together.

Junior English and Spanish major Alexander Orozco is disappointed about the school’s removal of books.

Photo Credit to Amanda Gonzalez Garcia

“I think it sucks. That’s what a library is for. You have a deeper connection with a book,” said Orozco.

When asked what he would like to see done with the open space, Orozco replied simply: “Books.”

Despite his disappointment, Orozco believes that the library is just innovating with the times.

Sophomore education major JuanPablo Martin understands the need for change.

“We are right now in an age in which everything is going to be digitized,” said Martin. “Information on a computer is in the palm of our hand, with smartphones and everything, so it is a lot less likely that students are going to pick up a book.”

The likelihood of students checking out books is exactly what drove the library to begin the weeding process in the first place. The library committee, made up of librarians, faculty, and one student, gathered data about the books that had been least checked out over the last 10 years. Those were the books that were removed.

The weeded books came from the World History, History of the Americas, and Geography, Anthropology, and Recreation sections. From 2016-2021, just 2.8 percent of the World History books were checked out. In 10 years—from 2011-2021—just 1,370 books of the 13,518 in that category were checked out.

Graphic Credit to Anna Galaktionov

Similarly, 5.3 percent of books in the History of the Americas section were checked out over five years, with just 2,295 of the books being checked out over a ten-year period. There are 23,072 books in that section.

Finally, in the Geography, Anthropology, and Recreation sections, 4.2 percent of the books were checked out over five years. In a ten-year period, just 579 out of 3,065 books were checked out.

The books are being sent to a company called Better World Books, which collects unwanted books from universities to resell to raise money for libraries everywhere. The company has both an environmental and social impact.

These sections were strategically chosen because the books were “no longer needed,” said Figa, adding that 40 percent of the collection is available electronically. The electronic availability is especially important since COVID, as students had to be able to access journal articles and books remotely during quarantine.

Echoing students Orozco and Martin, Figa believes the library is just adjusting to the times.

Photo Credit to Amanda Gonzalez Garcia

“The issue is not the weeding,” said Figa. “That is actually a byproduct of becoming a modern, responsible library.”

Figa used an example to illustrate that this is a natural process, noting that the library used to have VHS tapes, but they don’t anymore because most people no longer have VHS players. DVDs are even heading down this same track.

Thus, the library committee is building a library that is maximized for student engagement. Upon learning that the library will be bringing in some cultural exhibits, Martin became excited.

“I’m usually opposed to the idea of removing books, especially from libraries, because that’s a resource that should be accessible to the people who learn by that style,” said Martin. “[But] Barry’s four tenets, it says inclusive environment, so having this focus on community within the library itself…I think it’s perfect.”

Despite the positive enhancements coming to the campus library, the weeding out of print books contributes to a very real problem—the disappearance of print materials worldwide.

As of June 2021, Pew Research reported that the weekday print newspaper circulation from 2019-2020 decreased 19 percent, with the Sunday print circulation decreasing 14 percent. In contrast, the digital circulation increased—weekdays by 27 percent and Sundays by 26 percent.

Graphic Credit to Dyck Dorlean

The vanishing of print materials could very well bring Barry and the world closer to becoming a postliterate society. Such a society is one in which multimedia technology is so advanced that literacy—the ability to read and write—is no longer necessary.

“We are living in an age where children, before they pick up a book, will pick up an iPad,” said Martin. “Reading is at warfare with the speed at which media is consumed.”

With the advancement of technology and the age of remote education, student attention spans have widely diminished, and less and less students tend to handwrite. Martin compares the diminishment of handwritten notes to the disappearance of cursive being taught in schools—everything is moving with the times.

“Maybe in 40 years’ time, rather than having a physical brick and mortar library, the library’s completely online. The library is just a database,” said Martin. “That is where we’re heading as our dependency on technology increases.”

Orozco disagrees, emphasizing his belief that many people still like reading and writing. However, he finds the disappearance of print materials and dependence on technology problematic for a different reason.

“[It] forces people to have more reliable technology and access to those kinds of mediums, which could be hard for most people,” said Orozco, adding that in the time of remote instruction, many students had to share technological devices with siblings or simply did not have any access at all.

Figa believes the library’s rebuild will help make the library more accessible for students. The philosophy Figa is following is based on an Italian mathematician.

“His name is [Vilfredo] Pareto and he has an 80-20 rule,” said Figa. “So, basically what we’re doing is 80 percent of the library will stay the same, but there is 20 percent that changes. That’s what will really refresh the place.”

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