One State Is Destroying All Their Libraries And Turning Them Fully Digital

Vermont State University is converting its libraries to entirely digital and repurposing the buildings.

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

Vermont libraries

Vermont State University is making its libraries exclusively digital, and its students are not having it. As reported by the Vermont news outlet VTDigger, protests erupted on campus to boycott the choice. The University apologized for its handling of the situation but maintains its position.

Students were notified in a late email on February 7 that Vermont State University’s libraries would be shut down and the spaces repurposed as it shifted to a digital library model. The suddenness of the news sparked outrage from students and community members, who sprang into protest. An address by the University’s administration was met with picket signs and prepared statements.

During the address, the administration apologized for its handling of the situation, admitting that the announcement could have been better communicated. They told rowdy Vermont State students that the decision to discontinue its physical libraries was made based on survey data that indicated students’ needs were met by digital offerings. Officials claimed the survey was sent to every student, but only 500 of the school’s 5,500 attendees responded.

Students responded that the stakes of the survey were not clearly communicated; it was just another email lost in the shuffle. Other Vermont State students noted that the total digitization of the school’s libraries would cause even more reliance on screens, something many are already fatigued by. Some students noted that certain disabilities can make reading on a digital device difficult or even impossible.

The protests seemingly fell on deaf ears, as Vermont State University’s administration showed no willingness to flex on the issue, claiming that digital libraries were the way of the future. The opposing viewpoints mark an ironic contrast, with the younger generation raised on tech battling their elders for the preservation of an analog format.

The library transition is part of a larger move by the school that will absorb a number of other institutions over the summer. Vermont State University will unite Northern Vermont University, Castleton University, and Vermont Technical College under one state school umbrella, the libraries of which will be digital going forward. The announcement also included a plan to restructure each school’s sports programs. 

Vermont State University plans to donate the majority of its libraries’ books locally. Details for how the library buildings will be repurposed have not been communicated. The library closures will cause the loss of seven full-time jobs and three part-time jobs. 

The battle for books in Vermont continues, but the outlook for students fighting for their libraries looks grim. One glimmer of hope came after the address when a university administrator said the student response had caused pause for the school. But despite significant backlash, the university remains committed to its decision to oust its physical libraries. If exclusively digital libraries are indeed the way of the future, the drama in Vermont may be repeated across the country in coming years.

Online learning became the norm over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it left a bad taste in the mouths of many students. Now that most have made a return to campus, the frustration of online learning looms once again at Vermont State University with the impending closure of its physical libraries. As technology advances beyond tradition, schools and society at large must contend with an age-old dilemma: Just because we can advance, doesn’t mean we should.