Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Boston Globe: A library without the books

From the Boston Globe, with some interruptions by me.

Cushing Academy (yearly tuition: $42,850) is getting rid of its books:
“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. . . . We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’
And learn to spout clichéd language like "shape emerging trends and optimize technology"?
Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a “learning center,’’ though that is only one of the names in contention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.
I know how Cushing Academy can save $500,000: put in a Starbucks instead. What's the difference? And that way they won't have to train the erstwhile "information specialists" to be baristas, too.
Tracy and other administrators said the books took up too much space and that there was nowhere else on campus to stock them. So they decided to give their collection - aside from a few hundred children’s books and valuable antiquarian works - to local schools and libraries.

“We see the gain as greater than the loss,’’ said Gisele Zangari, chairwoman of the math department, who like other teachers has plans for all her students to do their class reading on electronic books by next year. “This is the start of a new era.’’
And students mark up these books how, exactly? But not everyone is happy with the Brave New World:
“Unless every student has a Kindle and an unlimited budget, I don’t see how that need is going to be met,’’ Fiels said. “Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power."
So far we agree. But wait--there's more:
"When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book.’’

Here's a test: Anyone out there still have a book on a 5 1/4" floppy disk, suitable for reading in the drive on your x286 processor Windows 3.1 system computer? How about a book on a 3" misnamed "floppy disk" or a Zip disk? Still have them? I do. How often do you read them? Daily? Weekly? Never?

How often do you read from books on paper that are over 100 years old? Daily? Weekly? More than you read the books on computer disks?

But of course reading old books on paper doesn't "shape emerging trends" or "prioritize the ramfoozle" or whatever the currently fashionable phrase is.

I know I've ranted about this before. But this is something that deserves a rant every time.


dance said...

Wow. I'm not one to scream about putting coffee and TVs in the library, but getting rid of the books? just idiotic.

I've been 90 minutes west of Boston. There's plenty of space out there. Hello, movable stacks? Totally feasible tech.

And yeah, outsource the coffee. And *18* e-readers?

The chair of the ALA certainly has learned to talk in soundbites, I must say.

But the *real* question: what kind of prep school isn't teaching classes that require students to check out books? What colleges do their grads go to?

undine said...

That last question is absolutely key, dance. What are they going to do with they get to college, look at a book, and say, "hey! The print's not moving! How do I turn this thing on?"

undine said...

But the more serious issue really is what they're going to do if they don't have any experience in looking up books, finding them in the shelves, skimming them for usefulness, etc.

Anonymous said...

I said they should browse the stacks and they said, but do journals have articles in full text?

Digger said...

I'll admit it is a challenge (nigh impossible) to get my university students to actually go to the library and touch a book (vs. use the wifi, etc.). I have actually considered stashing a slip of paper worth $5 in the course subject stacks... However, that is NO EXCUSE to get rid of the books!!!! Sheesh!

undine said...

profacero, that's sad. What did they think that journals had in them--just abstracts?

Digger, I know what you mean. I march over there with them so that they'll have to touch the books, but I don't know if they do that if I'm not around.

Tree of Knowledge said...

I'm having a nightmare, right?

If there are no books, it can't be called a library. And if their students weren't checking out any books), then perhaps the problem is with the curriculum, not the books. dance is right.

And how could the books possibly be taking up too much space if there weren't already plans for a coffee shop/study zone before the space issue came into being?

Please let this be a joke. Perhaps The Onion staff is moonlighting?

undine said...

Tree, I don't know what they're going to call it--"sports bar," maybe, with the big screens for ESPN? I do wonder about the curriculum there if students weren't taking out books. It sounds as though books are going to be passe in classes, too, if they aren't already, but there've been complaints recorded at the Chronicle and elsewhere about how hard it is to leaf through an e-book and find just what you want.

undine said...

Speak of the devil: an article on e-textbooks at the Chronicle.

And the books disappear after 6 months, so we're really talking about textbook rental, not purchase, here.

undine said...

Of course, if this is what they teach, they need another class--in English: "(For a Principals of Management textbook, the e-book and online tools cost $80, while a bundle that also includes the printed book costs $178.)"

For $178, don't you think someone could teach them the difference between "principle" and "principal"? Sheesh! http://chronicle.com/article/New-E-Textbooks-Do-More-Than/48324/

Bardiac said...

I'm guessing the folks who can afford $42K yearly tuition have parents with libraries and plenty of books at home.

Yeah, it's stupid, but these kids aren't really suffering. I bet the libraries at a lot of poorer high schools have way fewer books than they should. And those kids don't have libraries at home, probably.

undine said...

Bardiac, they're not suffering--except in ways that we can't readily see. Maybe, once Twitter and websurfing begin to pall after a few hours, they'd have checked out the library, especially if the teachers made a point of it. If the school put money into the library, the students would realize that it had a value, and the same holds true for books.

But what the school has chosen to say is that books in paper form have no value. As an expression of a core institutional value, that's a problem.

dance said...

I'm guessing the folks who can afford $42K yearly tuition have parents with libraries and plenty of books at home.

Yes and no. Many rich homes have few books, I hear. But that is what made me ask about the curriculum. Okay, lit novels you buy. But surely parents aren't buying books temporarily required to write a research paper, are they? Maybe they are---my middle class students have been known to search for relevant research sources on Amazon.

And my mom (now a bookseller) had some 10-15K books while I was in high school, a lot of nonfiction, though we were not at all rich. I definitely used it for research (eg, jr/sr history paper required 10 separate sources), but I also checked books out the library. Actually, wait, I used the public library. Don't think I ever bothered with the fairly small school library much, but this one looks much bigger, possibly a boarding school?

Anonymous said...

What I'd like to know is if the parents were consulted about this? I suspect they must have been with the high fees they are paying!

I've always believed that a love of books begins in the home. One doesn't need a full scale library in situ. Public libraries are still to be found and some parents register their kids as members even at the pre-school stage. Most of my nieces and nephews are library members - some as young as seven. They love books, quite simply because they've grown up with them.

The move is monstrous and is bound to have dire consequences. But the parents, paying those kind of fees, must have endorsed it.

Everything boils down to money!

undine said...

Dance, it sounds as though you grew up in a booklover's heaven. That's a good point about research books: how are the students going to get the sources they need, since--internet puffery to the contrary--not everything good is available online? Even if they order from Amazon (and some of the books are very pricey), wouldn't having books be (1) free and (2)available to satisfy one's immediate research needs be better even than Amazon's (1) expensive and (2) usually 2-day or more shipping time?

undine said...

Anon, I'm guessing that the parents have drunk the Kool-Aid of "everything is on teh Internets, so we don't need books" being ladled out by people at the school. For $42K, I'm sure that if they wanted books, the headmaster would get on that tout de suite.

Rufus said...

Step with me now, into the darkness! Yeesh.