The headline on Boston.com, the Boston Globe’s website, jumped out at me: “Prep school gets rid of all of its library books.”
Upon reading the article, I learned that Cushing Academy, a private school located about 50 miles outside of Boston in Ashburnham, MA is going all-digital, replacing their library with a “500,000 learning center” that will feature “3 flat screen that will project data from the internet” and with “18 electronic readers from Amazon.”
The headmaster, James Tracy, is quoted as saying, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”
I am absolutely appalled by his statement and by his successful move to dismantle the library, getting rid of more than 20,000 books in the process. I wonder what the parents and trustees of Cushing Academy were thinking. I have to believe there was some dissent although from these action, the dissenters didn’t win.
That a school would lead the way into this stupid new world is disturbing for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this move will not encourage students to read book length works. .
Once again, I am struck by how so many in our society engage in either/or thinking (electronic or paper) rather than both/and. This is a false choice because the two media can and do so perfectly coexist and complement each other.
In an interview with Peter H. Reynolds, a children’s author, illustrator and owner of an educational media firm, there is the following exchange between him and reporter, Don Aucion:
Q. There is a lot of concern about children losing the habit of reading books. Do you share that concern?
A. Well, I own a bookstore, and when kids come into contact with books, I see them loving them. But I think we have to be a little more passionate about getting books to children – which includes putting books in our own hands. I see a lot of parents not reading, but instead spending hours and hours on computers. It sends a strong message to kids that books re not important.”
There is a joy and sense of accomplishment in reading a book from start to finish, being drawn into its world whether it is fiction, biography or non-fiction. As a child and adolescent, I kept lists of the books I read and set goals for myself to read longer books. I had a goal to venture into the “forbidden” territory of the adult section of books at the library (eventually getting there when I had exhausted the young adult section of books. The librarian personally selected the “adult” books I could read.)
Physical books have also played an important role in connecting me to a world larger and different than my St. Louis neighborhood. As an adult, I’ve found them an immediate and effective networking tool. They have been the vehicle that helped me meet people::
- On public transportation (subways, buses, trains and airplanes)
- In book stores
- At parks and other outdoor spaces
- At restaurants when I’m dining alone (a pleasurable solitary experience I began after getting my first paycheck as a teen).
Someone will glance at a book I’m reading and engage:
- “Oh, I just finished that book, it’s wonderful…”
- “I was thinking of reading that book, how do you like it?”
Commenting on a book someone is reading or carrying, gives me an easy way to introduce myself to my fellow human. I’ve made friends and found a boyfriend or two (in my single days) through books.
The electronic readers do not quite have the same connectivity. When commenting on the Kindle electronic reader someone was carrying, all I could talk about was the device – “How do you like it?” The Kindle offers no clue about its content and so the conversation was short.
At my local library, the librarian notices the books I’ve checked out and recommends others. I browse the stacks and find new treasures because of the title, the book cover, etc.
Other concerns for me about the electronic readers are:
- the potential for content to be easily manipulated or censored.
the certainty of eye and neck strain and fatigue.
the costs to the environment to produce these devices which do not recycle readily.
Nor do they encourage swapping and sharing – something books win hands down.
What I know for sure is that electronic readers are not effective or even desirable replacements for paper. Just because something is new and electronic doesn’t mean that it’s better.
So, join me. Carry a physical book wherever you go. Model for young people the joys of reading. Join on-line communities for book-lovers like: shelfari.com or librarything.com where you can share in the virtual world the books you read and love by creating virtual book shelves.
Don’t let paper books go down without a fight!
(If you like this post, you may also want to check out my post “Why I Still Read the Paper,-Paper.”)