More than two in five Brown students still borrow books from the library


Photo: “John D. Rockefeller Library” by Kenneth C. Zirkel, licensed under CC 4.0.

By Kevin Moclair

Even as college library use declined nationwide, 55% of class of 2022 borrowed book during Brown tenure

Book borrowing at some university libraries across the country has declined precipitously over the last decade: Yale University’s Bass Library saw a 64% drop in book loans from 2009 to 2019, according to a 2019 article in The Atlantic. And at the University of Virginia, students went from loaning more than 238,000 books in the 2007-2008 school year to just under 60,000 in the 2017-18 school year.


But at Brown, more than two out of every five current students (41%) polled in the Brown Opinion Project’s March 2022 poll indicated that they had checked out at least one physical book from a University library. That number rose to 55% for the senior class — meaning a majority of the class of 2022 has loaned a book before they graduate in May.


The class of 2025 had the lowest rate of book loaning according to the poll, with only 30% of first-years indicating that they loaned a book in their early academic career. Still, if the classes of 2022 and 2025 are comparable, that number might indicate that most students who check out books from the library do so for the first time in their first year on campus.


A junior who took the poll and indicated that they loaned from the libraries said in interviews that the types of books they checked out varied.


“If it’s for fun, I’ll look in the first-floor area — the cookbooks, that’s what I remember checking out,” said one junior who took the poll. “If it’s something I need for school, I’ll use (BruKnow) — I’ve found you can get really expensive textbooks through the inter-library loans.”


The same junior added that they go to the Providence Public Library to look for a book if a class requires it, noting that they make it a point to “support public libraries.”


Students who said they had not yet checked out any physical books pointed to online resources as a replacement: One junior who took the poll said that they had never checked out a book, instead of using PDFs they found online or purchasing required class books from the bookstore. While they said they often go to a library to study, they added that they could only imagine checking out a book if they wrote a thesis.


The pandemic — along with remote classes and social distancing rules — also limited the ability of students to enter libraries from 2020 to 2021. During that time, digital resources for students expanded, according to the University library.


One first-year who took the poll described confusion on how to make the best use of the expansive library resources.


“Maybe I should start checking out books,” they admitted. “I honestly don’t even know what kind of books I would check out … all I’ve seen is medical textbooks in the Sci Li,” they added.


Photo: “John D. Rockefeller Library” by Kenneth C. Zirkel, licensed under CC 4.0.


Note: All quoted poll-takers remain anonymous to maintain the integrity of Brown Opinion Project surveys. Brown Opinion Project conducted its March 2022 poll from March 2-4, collecting 591 total responses from Brown undergraduate students with a margin of error of 4.09% with 95% confidence.