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When Renovating a Library Means Ditching the Books

A Massachusetts school's experiment in taking its library digital has been a rousing success


The library at Cushing Academy, a small private high school in Massachusetts, underwent an extensive renovation in 2009, and the change was more than just physical. The school sold or donated 40,000-plus books from its collection, replacing them with digital texts. Two years into the experiment, the school staff say it's been an unqualified success.

Tom Corbett, the library's executive director, told THE Journal that the school's students "needed a facility that went beyond the 'stacks' and embraced the digital future." So the school donated or sold most of its books, keeping only those—mostly art tomes and poetry collections—that weren’t available digitally or didn’t translate well to an electronic format.


The renovation team added LCD screens to the space to broadcast the news, along with plenty of electronic readers. All of the digital texts are also available on the library's website. To "get out of the 'purchase the books up front and hope someone uses them' mentality," of traditional libraries, Corbett told THE Journal, the school uses a pay-as-you-use-it service for books: The school is only charged for a book after a student or teacher checks it out electronically.

Transforming the library into a digital hub didn't mean firing the librarians. In fact, Corbett says, the school hired more staff to help run the space. Like other libraries that have incorporated digital media, the Cushing staff shifted librarians' roles from shelving and checking out books toward teaching students how to conduct research.

Some people see the internet and the rise of e-readers as threats to libraries, so it's refreshing to see Cushing strike a balance between old- and new-school. Libraries are here to stay, Corbett said, adding that people shouldn't forget "all the other important roles a library plays in teaching information literacy skills," and "encouraging and promoting a love of reading from K through 12."

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