Friday, September 11, 2009

TKC interviews "Library w/o Books" headmaster Tracy

UPDATE: 9/11/09 6:48PM PDT - Podcast 60 is ready.
UPDATE2: midnight - Podcast Extra: Library tour and actual plans
A bit of nostalgia in the image to the left... Note the laptops on the tables of course :-)
  Clicking on the image or on the next link takes you to a brief story on the surging use of the New York City Library though it's not due to the best of reasons -- but it's a good and welcome resource for those who need to find a job in a world requiring wired access.  The article's actual title is "The Library Renaissance."

The article also links back to an article in March on the library's efforts to help jobseekers and points out that "...with Web sites largely having replaced newspapers as the most common job-listing venues, finding work without Internet access has become increasingly difficult."

In connection with the recent story on "A Library Without Books," the Boston Globe article, had said that Cushing Academy had "...decided to give their collection - aside from a few hundred children’s books and valuable antiquarian works - to local schools and libraries," although the Globe's writer, David Abel, mentioned, in another paragraph, that the school's administrators had "decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks " -- many have been disbelieving that a school would do this.

 Others, as I mentioned in the Comments area, had seen this as understandable for a school library as opposed to a public library, because in a college-preparatory school like this, the library is used mainly for a quiet and WIRED place for students to go with their laptops.  Students are focused on specifically-assigned books, and the Net gives speedier search access to additional information on those assigned topics -- while a public library acts as a physical database of materials the general public can browse at leisure, though they also have considerable wired access now and terrific online-resources, generally.

  Also, most junior high and high school libraries don't have 20,000+ books in them.
 Cushing Academy has only a few hundred students and the annual fee for attending the school is between $31,200 and $42,850 -- not your average college-prep school.

The reaction has been quite divided, and Len Edgerly of the popular podcast, The Kindle Chronicles, decided to interview the apparent driving force behind the changes, headmaster James Tracy, on the school's library plan.  Many are concerned about the precedent.

  Edgerly has said on Twitter that "Globe's got it wrong" and expanded a little in an email when I asked him about this before we are able to hear the interview when it is uploaded Friday night 9/11/09 (tonight) to the Kindle Chronicles site.  He gave me permission to quote him.
' The TVs are essentially computer monitors, available for kids to work collaboratively on, with controls somehow at their seats.  Also, the Globe got it wrong - the school library will have 10k books of the 20k there now, and several other thousand are being distributed to departments. So actual reduction in volumes is about 7K or 8k...

Any volume which was donated to the school as a memorial is being retained in the collection.   They see the new library becoming the epicenter of the school for students and faculty, compared with its former reality as a little-used collection of traditional books infrequently visited by anyone...

Slide 4 caption includes this: "Cushing Junior Tia Alliy shelved a heavy volume onto a shelf holding the spared books." In fact, that shelf is one of half the original shelves still in the library." '

 That last caption is reassuring when the Boston Globe titled another caption with the contradicting "The school's new "learning center" will have no books -- they have been donated or discarded." -- unless they mean the 'spared' books will be available where they are donated.  All in all, it was a very confusing article, as it turns out.

A look at the full range of Dr. Tracy's approach to the topic can be seen in a talk he gave at a symposium, "Libraries Beyond Books: A Call for New Paradigms."  It's an interesting read, but his choice of words is not always helpful for his case, which can sound 'extreme' when he writes: "This is why, at Cushing Academy, where we are dedicated to forging the most far-sighted pedagogies for twenty-first century education, we have decided to be bookless within a year."

So, in light of all of the above, I recommend that all interested tune in to The Kindle Chronicles Podcast sometime Friday night to hear or download Len Edgerly's interview with headmaster Tracy.  There's now the podcast Extra of a tour of the library and a look at the mockup of their actual plans, with Bruce Lemieux, Director of Technology, and Susie Carlisle, Dean of Faculty and Academics.

  The weekly podcasts are also available as a free-subscription at iTunes and will remain available at the podcast site. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. Andrys,

    As background, I must say that I never quite understood the depth of passion in the reaction by many to the Nicholson Baker article, as it seemed to me that he was just expressing his opinion about the Kindle. I say this because, after listening yesterday to Len’s interview with Dr. Tracy, I feel a similar level of offense, but for different reasons. To me, Dr. Tracy came off as quite condescending in has attitude toward those he characterized as “afraid of change.” As a college educator who’s a “digital immigrant,” I find the topic of discussion quite intriguing concerning the potential changes in delivery of educational content. However, Dr. Tracy appears to consider anyone who sees this as a less-than-settled issue as being hopelessly simplistic, and, again in his words, “afraid.” I was also offended by his breezy dismissal of the idea of a “digital divide.” I feel this way in part because I work in an educational setting (state university) where the ability of the school to purchase e-readers for all students is practically non-existent for the foreseeable future. In that light, financial discrepancies between different socioeconomic groups are quite real, and, in my view, present a very real challenge for educating all students in an equitable manner. At the very least, I don’t presume that it’s a foregone conclusion. In addition, the casting of the comparison as between (presumably) “forward-thinking schools” like the Cushing Academy and “schools in rural Alabama” (hicks?), to me bespeaks a certain provincial arrogance. I’m constantly defending my industry against those who have a knee-jerk reaction to academics as “pointy-head liberals” who disdain “fly-over country,” but Dr. Tracy makes it a little more difficult to do so. Okay, rant over ;-0 As I said at the outset, people obviously vary in what issues will set them off, and I guess this is one of mine. Thanks for the soapbox, and take care.

  2. First, Baker was unhappy with Amazon's advertising and marketing statements and took it out on the Kindle device for flaws common to ereaders today while not minding same flaws in the other ereaders. Lovingly taking time to look for books not yet on the Kindle and then gleefully finding them not Kindleized yet while -then- lamenting the idea that many publishers eventually will be subtly pressured into having Kindle versions was an example of a double-edged problem-finder.

    It seemed to me he regrets that small companies tend to fare less well vs a big bad company that markets and which, worse, has pretensions in connection with added digital features that readers might like that are not in a paper book. On the other hand he doesn't mention trying those features.

    It was too David vs Goliath for me. Because of that bias (long-term w/regard to digital vs analog for library records) he took little time to actually look at some basic facts while puzzled that the Sony was "ignored" but not doing research on the reasons. It was an enteraining read otherwise, as he is a good writer whose musings have tickled me.

    I didn't get to listen carefully to Dr. Tracy in the first half because his voice showed more excitement when talking about the Kindle than when talking about the library plans. That rise and fall thing. I'll listen to the first half again though when I'm more alert.

    Please use this soapbox area ANYtime !

  3. Andrys,

    As usual, yours is a well-reasoned rationale and response. And to be honest, I may not have read the Baker article with as fine a degree for nuance as I might have [or maybe I just need to have the point made with a two-by-four to the noggin now and again ;-)]; I’ll have to give it another look. I think my reaction to the reaction may have been flavored by the fact that I read most of it on the Amazon forum, where (I’m not sure if you’d agree with this or not) passion alone (both love and hate!) often seems to be the driving force behind a lot of the commentary. So I certainly wouldn’t place you in that category. Appreciate the exchange of ideas. Take care.

  4. Batman,
    I was asked for my thoughts on his piece so I made notes, and then decided I might as well blog it, so I was looking at it more in depth.

    I've detailed my own thoughts while reading it a 2nd time, more slowly (2 parts) and was surprised it was worse than I'd thought when it came to reporting on the device in a serious way rather than railing against Bezos for what he has said that rubbed Baker the wrong way and complaining how much space Bezos took on the Amazon site to advertise the Kindle. It clearly annoyed him, all of it, but especially Jeff Bezos' statements.


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