The Cushing Academy near Boston removed all the books from their library last year in an intentional purge against intellectualism designed to streamline campus thinking.  Cushing replace paper with electronic books and online resources and we cannot but help but wonder what was lost in the pulp dust.

When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,” said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to 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.

The idea of a library — being physically surrounded by intensive and on-the-record intellect of those who came before you — was one of the major advantages of paper against the electronic ether.

As paper dissolves to ash — we must now make the difficult transition from paper to virtual page — and we wonder what will happen to the librarian.  Will we have digital librarian robot?  Or will we always have a cogent, live-blooded person leading us out of the shallow end of a local library graveyard and into the deep water depths of the worldwide pool of knowledge?

It is easier to scroll through a book on a screen than it is to speed
read a physical book that requires actual page turning and, as we
naturally become less patient in thought and more facile in
multitasking, we cannot help but ignore the warning signs from our
ancestors scrawled in blood across empty bookshelves foretelling a
forthcoming, generational, tidal wave of illiteracy posing as technological advancement that masks understanding by repressing the
instinctual, but untrained, reflex to learn by merely pushing a button and clicking a mouse.

2 Comments

  1. David,
    In an article entitled The School Librarian’s Role in the Electronic Age , the author writes :

    Suggesting resources, locating and acquiring needed materials, recommending strategies, facilitating use of technologies, and instructing students and teachers in optimal information-seeking methods replace the traditional librarian tasks of material circulation.

    Even though the information is out there in digital form, the librarian is still needed to help the students getting it in the best way.