Wading into the Cushing Controversy

ETA: This seems to be confusing people, so I’ll make it extra-clear: this is not my school! Just another independent school in MA.

Our li’l MA independent school library world is national news: the headmaster of Cushing Academy was interviewed on Here and Now today (listen to “Technology in the Classroom”).

What’s the deal? Basically, Dr. Tracy, the headmaster, has instructed the Cushing library to toss all their books. Instead of a regular library, they will have a Library of the Fuuuuuture (sorry, a “learning center”) made up of… well, 18 Kindles, some database subscriptions, and a coffee bar. Here’s the story in the Globe, back when it was only local news.

Let me state up-front that I am not a book fetishist, particularly. I am not going to wax poetic here about the smell of the books and how wonderful it feels to snuggle into bed with one. Lord knows I spend enough time reading stuff on the internet. But books? Turns out they’re still useful.

  1. A school library collection reflects the specific needs of a school. It is built over time by librarians, who are trained experts in the collection development process. If you chuck all the books, every single librarian and teacher will have to start from scratch to redesign their projects to reflect whatever resources are now available.
  2. I worship at the internet altar even more than most people, and I’m telling you: not everything is on the internet. Not even close.
  3. 18 Kindles. That means 18 kids and adults can have books checked out at any time. Way to encourage pleasure reading, there.
  4. People learn in different ways. Your better educational institutions are all about “different learning modalities” these days. “Hey everybody, do all your research online” is the opposite of this.
  5. Books work when the power goes out. They work on the beach and on your service trip to West Africa and when the server goes down. (And, Hippie Girl would like to point out, books work x years past peak oil when the power goes out forever. I hope we haven’t thrown out all our books when that happens, ’cause I’d like to have something to read in between apocalypses.)

This is just a start, of course. I could go on forever. I heart “technology” as much as the next very nerdy person, but this is unbelievably shortsighted. Remember when Macs stopped including floppy drives and nobody could figure out how to move their files around and it made the tech support people crazy? (Ok, maybe that was just me.) This is like that, only infinitely more so. We just aren’t there yet. Not even close.

This was a more or less unilateral choice by Dr. Tracy, is my understanding. This was not the librarians’ decision. And he’s achieved his goal: everybody’s talking about Cushing Academy and the Library of the Fuuuuuture. I look forward to hearing what they’re saying in a few months and a few years.

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4 Responses to Wading into the Cushing Controversy

  1. Pingback: Do libraries need books?

  2. Greg says:

    Not to mention the power of browsing. I almost flipped out this week when the Dean of the Library gave a presentation to the faculty senate about these new robotic book retrieval systems they want to install to conserve space. But she calmed the room down by noting that this would apply only to the aisles upon aisles of old journals and not anything that anyone would ever browse through.

    You might not be able to tell everything about a book by its cover, but you can tell an awful lot by looking at a whole row of books, supposedly on a similar topic.

  3. Jennifer says:

    It’s like I tell patrons at the library all the time – computers are an emerging technology. In other words, they break. Frequently. For a wide variety of reasons. I cannot imagine depending solely on technology for research. This reminds me of when a very, very large university in my home city decided that undergraduates really didn’t need any books – and the “undergraduate library” is now a giant computer lab and av center.

  4. Edi says:

    Yes this will be an interesting story to follow. I hope you keep blogging about this!

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