Whither the academic’s office in the digital age?

Office door and nametag (cc photo by vikasiamoto)
(cc photo by vikasiamoto)

In this video from Book TV, Brown University historian Gordon Wood discusses his research and writing practices while offering a tour of his home office… and his campus office… and his private study in Brown’s Rockefeller Library.

Caleb McDaniel comments that the video makes him “thankful for the post-notecard era.” I concur—for any number of reasons, but in large part because, between my laptop’s hard drive and its external companion, basically all of my dissertation research can accompany me where ever I go. This is handy, since I don’t have an office to work in.

But the Wood video, in addition to making me long for the day I (hopefully) do, also made me wonder what happens to the real estate devoted to those boxes of notecards when they’re replaced by Zotero, and to those shelves of books if/when they’re replaced by e-readers and tablets. What will academics’ offices become if they no longer need to serve as storage areas for lots of printed material?

This post at Inside Higher Ed by Herman Berliner raises some related questions and calls for “a new model of space utilization,” but doesn’t suggest what it would look like. (The commenters, in defense of the status quo, raise compelling points about privacy, student meetings, and FERPA guidelines.) What should this new model look like? And how should it address perhaps the most vital issue of all: enabling professors to impress and inspire their students without the aid of intimidatingly—but tantalizingly—crowded bookcases on every wall?

Update, 9/10: Fixed broken link—sorry about that.

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