Rows of books sit on shelves.

Vermont State University’s proposal to create a digital-only library is sparking controversy and questions about access, costs, and the future of academic libraries.

The university aims to replace its physical library space with a “digital-first” collection and more collaborative study areas. It argues this will better meet the needs of today’s students and align with trends in technology and research. However, critics argue it could limit access, increase fees, and reduce essential services.

faculty, students, and community members have voiced strong opposition to the plan. They say the library provides an important public good, resources for those without Internet access, and a central campus space for learning and community.

“A physical library is the heart of our campus and I fear that a digital library will not be able to recreate that same sense of place and belonging,” one faculty member said. Others warn of higher costs from digital subscriptions and platform fees as well as fewer resources for those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Some supporters counter that digital libraries expand access by providing 24/7 access to resources from anywhere. They say concerns are overblown, and that transitioning to digital would allow reinvestment in other important areas like tutoring centers, study spaces, and technology. However, limitations of digital-only environments are well-documented.

The debate highlights key issues emerging around the future of academic libraries and higher education more broadly. As technology evolves, how can libraries continue providing essential services and spaces, especially for marginalized groups? What is lost or gained in moving fully to digital collections and remote access? And how should costs and resources be balanced to support student success at scale?

There are compelling arguments on multiple sides of these issues. Ultimately, they require navigating complex trade-offs and finding options that expand access when possible while preserving what’s most valuable about physical library spaces. No easy or single answer exists.

By committing to shared goals around access, inclusion, and learning, Vermont State and stakeholders can work through this controversy toward an outcome that benefits both students today and in the long run. But it will demand openness to perspectives unlike their own, willingness to compromise, and determination to put student needs first above all else. The future of academic libraries depends on such courage and conviction. The present moment offers an opportunity to demonstrate it.


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