Libraries face electronic changes
Will book stacks give way to search engines?
By Ian Grayson for CNN
Many of today's EMBA students are more likely to be found at a computer than in a library.
FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Kellogg, U.S.
3. Chicago GSB, U.S.
4. Stern, NY, U.S.
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Hong Kong UST, China
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
9. London Business School, UK
10. Tanaka, Imperial College, UK
Source: Financial Times 2005
Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.
A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.
A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.
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(CNN) -- Academic courses have long had an image of toiling students spending hours hunched over textbooks in vast libraries.
Nestled in quiet study alcoves, hemmed in on all sides by massive book stacks, they painstakingly scan journals, magazines and academic texts.
Keen to learn from the experts who have gone before them, business students read volumes of case histories and research papers in the hope of gaining an insight into the theories and practices that will help them in their real-world jobs.
But it seems such 20th-century images of learning are no longer accurate. Today's MBA and executive education students are more likely to be hunched over a computer terminal than a printed page.
The rapid rise of the Internet as a global communications and information infrastructure has transformed the way much of today's learning takes place. And, if companies such as Google have their way, the changes are only just beginning.
The popular online search service is busy creating what it hopes will become the ultimate online library. By working to digitize books and other printed works, it hopes to make texts once only available to a privileged few accessible by anyone with a computer.
Google also is building a service specifically for academics and students. The search engine combs online papers, theses, reports and abstracts and provides rapid access to vast volumes of information.
Universities and business schools are watching such developments with interest. Many are convinced that such technologies can reduce operating costs while at the same time improving the learning experience of students.
An example of the new approach to libraries can be seen at the University of Texas, where its undergraduate library has been cleared of most of its 90,000 books. In their place the university has installed computers, a coffee shop and quiet study areas. Such facilities have been dubbed "information commons" and are expected to appear at other institutions before long.
Holding information in digital form is a boon for students studying externally or who need to travel while taking classes. As long as they have an Internet connection, they can gain access to texts and materials they need to complete assignments and prepare for examinations.
However, some observers doubt whether such developments will have a dramatic effect on business school students because of their specific focus and requirements.
Stanford Business School program development director Sean Bendarkar says much of what is taught in business classes does not come from text books, in any case.
"The programs we offer in business school tend to be more transformational in nature," he says. "When you are more senior and looking at things like cultural change and strategic issues, then you need a qualitative experience."
But despite these views, schools recognize the cost benefits of students being able to access the texts they do require electronically. Money saved on providing printed texts can be shifted into other areas, such as the development of multimedia materials and video case examples.
Meanwhile Google continues in its quest to become a one-stop provider of information to students. Its Google Print project is collecting texts from publishers around the world to add to a searchable database.
Google says the project will actually encourage more people to purchase books by making them aware that they exist. Because of copyright restrictions, the full text of many books cannot be delivered to searchers. Instead, brief excerpts are provided together with details of where a copy of the book can be found or purchased.
The days of massive academic libraries are not over, but with the continuing rise of the Internet and search technologies, their futures are far from certain.
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