Warning: This Boston Globe story (or this post) may cause severe and acute depression.
The Globe reports today that Cushing Academy, a 144-year old prep school in Ashburnham, has discarded its 20,000-book library [giving the books to local schools and other libraries, thankfully] and will replace it by "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." To "replace" (hem hem) the books, they'll spend $10,000 on Sony and Amazon e-readers.
Headmaster and "chief promoter of the bookless campus" James Tracy told the Globe "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books ... This isn’t Fahrenheit 451 [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned] [NB: those are the Globe's brackets ... the fact that they felt the title required them is disturbing in its own right]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology."
Not surprisingly, Cushing's librarian of 17 years, Liz Vezina, said "It makes me sad. I’m going to miss them. I love books. I’ve grown up with them, and there’s something lost when they’re virtual. There’s a sensual side to them - the smell, the feel, the physicality of a book is something really special." History department chair Alexander Coyle said "A lot us are wondering how this changes the dignity of the library, and why we can’t move to increase digital resources while keeping the books."
American Library Association executive director Keith Michael Fiels said that this decision raises several concerns, not the least of which are how the students will have access to the e-books (most of those offered by Sony and Amazon aren't free, after all) and that the loss of the ability to browse the stacks may [WILL] hamper students doing research.
Administrators say that the students weren't using the books in the library, and it's entirely possible that the collection was such that that's the case - but the answer to that isn't ditching books entirely, it's making sure you have the right books on the shelves. Such an outrageous move as the Cushing administrators are making is simply the wrong way to usher in change. Digital tools and resources complement print collections, they don't replace them. And as for that $12,000 coffee machine in the $50,000 coffee shop? ... well, that would have bought a whole heck of a lot of books!