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Will School Libraries Go Book-less?

Last September, a Massachusetts prep school called Cushing Academy announced that it'd be giving away thousands of books from its library and...


Last September, a Massachusetts prep school called Cushing Academy announced that it'd be giving away thousands of books from its library and switching to a more digital model. The New York Times blog "Room for Debate" convened a panel to discuss the consequences of the school library of the future-which may be a library without books.Several of the respondents lamented the loss of bound volumes-including a librarian who pointed out that the years she'd spent developing research methods and selecting reference materials could be the baby thrown out with the bathwater.William Powers, author of the forthcoming Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, finds a middle ground, saying that new technologies don't necessarily kill of old ones. The immersive quality of reading a book will persist:
What are often considered the weaknesses of the old-fashioned book are in some ways its strengths. For instance, a physical book works with the body and mind in ways that more readily produce the deep-dive experience that is reading at its best. When you read on a two-dimensional screen, your mind spends a lot of energy just navigating, keeping track of where you are on the page and in the text. The tangibility of a traditional book allows the hands and fingers to take over much of the navigational burden: you feel where you are, and this frees up the mind to think.
Most of the discussion veers away from the actual point of a school transitioning its library to a more digital model-accommodating not only e-readers, but also the fact that more research is done via Internet search engines than card catalogs these days.In fact, Cushing's headmaster James Tracy spends most of his response defending his decision with pretty sensible points:
By reconceptualizing our library, our teachers and students now have better access to vast digital resources for research and learning. But they need more help from librarians to navigate these resources, so we have also increased our library staff by 25 percent. ... Many classes continue to use printed books, while others use laptops or e-readers. It is immaterial to us whether students use print or electronic forms to read Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Photo (cc) by Flickr user John Jobby.