Friday, September 4, 2009

A Book-Free Library?

On the front page of today's The Boston Globe is an article with the headline - "Welcome to the Library. Say goodbye to the books". I nearly fell down in a dead faint when I read that! I couldn't grab that newspaper and read that article fast enough.

Apparently James Tracy, the headmaster at Cushman Academy in Ashburnham, MA, has decided that books are obsolete and the library at Cushman will now be completely digital. In Mr. Tracy's words, "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books". Somehow I don't think that if I ever met Mr. Tracy we would ever be friends. Personally, I do not believe that books are a form of technology at all.
I can understand a library having all its academic books, textbooks and reference materials in an all digital format. That makes some sense to me. It really does. Textbooks are prohibitively expensive and it would be a welcome relief to both students' pocketbooks and their backs if they were digital. Same with reference materials. Most people do all their research online and this actually makes sense to me. It's easier, faster and can be more thorough (if you know what you're doing. Please, no Wikipedia or Google. Use Reference Datebases). But Mr. Tracy has decided to discard ALL of Cushman's books - including the classics, novels and poetry. I beg to disagree with Mr. Tracy on this. Personally, if I had a child attending Cushman Academy I withdraw him/her immediately. I'm not exaggerating. A student should have access to books. Paper and ink books. Books they can hold and be immersed in. Sorry, reading Jane Eyre on a Kindle is just not the same. Nor is reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or even The Kite Runner. Young people today are already too connected to technology and electronics. Please don't take away their access to books.

As far as I know, not too many libraries are going book free. I think there might be a middle ground here. Libraries could be partially digital and still have books. I certainly hope that other libraries do not follow in the misguided footsteps of Cushman Academy's headmaster. If all libraries decided to go book-free, it will be a sad day indeed.

"A house without books is like a room without windows" ~Horace Mann

Image from Google Images


  1. Truly frightening. I am a fan of digital information, but I don't think the answer is tossing out the books. Especially... ALL the books!

    I poked around Cushing Academy's site and found the text of a talk entitled “Libraries Beyond Books: A Call for New Paradigms” by James Tracy. An excerpt:

    "At the same time, we can use the space now freed up from books to build convivial areas where students and teachers are encouraged to interact – yes, even talk - about ideas, so it becomes a place of interaction – with a coffee shop, faculty lounge, shared teacher and student learning environments, a student area for study."

    Coffee shops and snack bars have become very important in academic libraries, at least, to the students. But this school is for grades 9-12! Study areas should be available, but moving the books to make way for coffee for teenagers just doesn't seem right.

    I think that eliminating all books is too extreme. Eliminating some that are redundant might be ok. When it comes to journals, articles are easy enough to read online. But entire books? I can't imagine reading all of my books on a computer screen. It will be interesting to see how the students cope with this. I wonder if some will resort to purchasing their own books from Amazon instead!

  2. Madge - Good for you for going to the source at Cushing's site! I have to agree... using the space freed up by the removal of books for a coffeeshop and a lounge seems ridiculous to me. I agree that study areas are important, but coffee and lounging belong in the student union, in my opinion. Maybe I'm just old fashioned. Or, if there is room for a coffee shop within the (hallowed) walls of the library, then great. But to remove the books to make room for coffee and snacks seems crazy to me!


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