The library at Imperial College London could become the first bookless academic library in the UK, according to the Imperial Library Services Director, Deborah Shorley.

During a presentation at the excellent 2012 Cambridge Libraries Conference, she also stated that the library at Imperial is already 98% digital in terms of its journal collections, and that no more printed books are being bought. Apparently most of the books currently held are student textbooks and the policy is to dispose of these when e-textbook versions become available. Imperial has already invested heavily in re-purposing space within its library, to create a variety of fixed and flexible work and study areas and it expects to create more of these spaces as the collection shrinks. Naturally these areas are developed to be fully compatible with laptop use and to enable students and researchers to work individually, or to collaborate and display their projects on shared screens.

It’s worth remembering here that Imperial College London is primarily a technical institution, heavily slanted towards science and engineering. (It’s “mostly maths”, according to Deborah). This obviously means that it bears little resemblance to a university which conducts the full spectrum of study and research, and its library does not have the same interest in print as it would if it were dealing with the humanities and social sciences.

Nevertheless, the physical existence of a bookless academic library, even if it were solely in science and engineering, would be a new and interesting phenomenon. Ms Shorley may have to expand her already busy schedule of library tours.


  1. Having lived through a power cut where my city regressed to the 1870s in one morning and didn’t return to the 21st Century for about 3 months, and phone service wasn’t returned for much later, it is clear to me that impressed books, not the photocopied kind, will remain the most durable repository of human thoughts for a few more centuries.

    My cellphones, walkman players, stereo, modems, tv etc were just plastic junk until the power grid came back. Cooking in BarBQ pits with cast iron pots and washing up with a bit of bath water got old real fast.

    It is far more likely to me that books will soon contain electronic paper in addition to dry paper, for drill-downs, links and adverts. We have to plan for a time of less profligate use of electricity.Thanks

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