Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Library Without Books

As a Kindle enthusiast, I found the following news not only jarring but very sad, since I imagine that most Kindle users will be people who love books.
  At first I thought the story couldn't be true, but a sample statistic they give of actual usage of the library was also grim.

The Boston Globe's David Abel reports on the mind-boggling decision by Cushing Academy administrators to discard all their books in favor of a digital future.  James Tracy, headmaster, sees books as "an outdated technology, like scrolls before books."

The academy will spend $500,000 to instead create a 'learning center' -- with reading stacks replaced by "three large flat-screen TVs" projecting Internet data and by "special laptop-friendly study carrels."

In place of the rejected books will be "18 electronic readers made by Amazon and Sony," which will be stocked with digital material.  Those with no access to e-readers will be expected to do research and read assigned text on their own computers.
' Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we’re building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books," said Tracy, whose office shelves remain lined with books.  “We see this as a model for the 21st-century school."
  The feeling is not universal there.  Librarian Liz Vezina says she never imagined being the director of a library without books. And ...
' Alexander Coyle, chairman of the history department, is a self-described "gadget freak" who enjoys reading on Amazon’s Kindle, but he has always seen libraries and their hallowed content as "secular cathedrals." ... A lot us are wondering how this changes the dignity of the library, and why we can’t move to increase digital resources while keeping the books. "

But there are others who are in step with headmaster Tracy:

' "We see the gain as greater than the loss," said Gisele Zangari, chairwoman of the math department, who like other teachers has plans for all her students to do their class reading on electronic books by next year.  "This is the start of a new era." '

Others lament the decision, of course.   But here are other views that were also surprising, and the sample statistic I mentioned is also shocking to me:
' Yet students at Cushing say they look forward to the new equipment, and the brave new world they’re ushering in.

Tia Alliy, a 16-year-old junior, said she visits the library nearly every day, but only once looked for a book in the stacks.  She’s not alone.  School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.

"When you hear the word ‘library,’ you think of books," Alliy said. "But very few students actually read them. And the more we use e-books, the fewer books we have to carry around."

Jemmel Billingslea, an 18-year-old senior, thought about the prospect of a school without books. It didn’t bother him.

"It’s a little strange," he said. "But this is the future." '
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  1. It's remarkable -- and remarkably sad -- that they cannot realize the unique pleasures of actual books: the feel, the control, the "oneness" that humans have with physical objects. The rocker Courtney Love once protested that "I don't create *content*", but we're heading towards a future where children will see the world as just that: information, bits. Beautiful bindings, photos, layouts, randomly flipping pages, it's all done with. Sad.

  2. I actually thought that people didn't have to fear the end of print books as some do, since tv did not kill movies or radio, etc., etc., and all types of media can co-exist (and I still feel this way), but enough guys like this who don't have the most basic appreciation of actual physical books in all their variety and history and I finally see that the threat some have felt is at least too real with some decision-makers though I still think this is an anomaly and then some.

  3. This is is a great news story, but I'm not surprised. We got rid of our library at work ages ago. No one used it because books weren't that expensive that we had to share them, and most of the information we wanted was online anyway. I expect kids will still get books from Borders, B&N or Amazon to read, but for a school library, the Internet is just fine.

  4. Mobile,
    I was going to, and still may, do a small update on this story today because feedback on this online was heavily (to my surprise) in favor of this for school libraries as opposed to any such action with public libraries.

    It seems school libraries today are more a place to get away for some quiet time with laptops/notebooks and they'd probably be good revenue centers with a coffee shop.


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