School prepares for book-free library

How many books would you expect to see in a New England prep school library? Until recently, the correct answer in the case of Cushing Academy was 20,000. But soon the answer will be zero.

The school has decided to replace its stock of physical books (pictured) with a collection of internet-enabled screens and electronic reading devices. According to the Boston Globe, the academy’s headmaster says “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

It appears the days of checking out a book could be over for most students as the project will only involve buying 18 Amazon Kindles and Sony Readers for use beyond the library walls. The main purpose of the library (or learning center as it may be retitled) will be as a quiet place for working on laptops.

The academy says the $500,000 revamp will mean replacing 20,000 books with access to “millions of titles”. And it insists the idea of students taking books away from the library is already outdated. It says that on average only 48 books are checked out at any time, 30 of them children’s titles.

It does have to be said that the academy isn’t helping its case by announcing that while it’s spending only $10,000 on the electronic readers, it’s shelling out $12,000 on a cappuccino machine where the reference desk used to be. While many college students may find caffeine as valuable a study aid as the printed page, that’s an odd message to send to schoolchildren.

For a project involving so much language, it’s a shame staff have chosen to use some particularly ugly phrases to describe the changes. The library will apparently become a “center for collaboration, communication, and experiential learning” full of “community-building areas.”

And those flat-screens with access to the internet (and possibly other electronic databases)?

Why, naturally they are “Portals of Civilization.”

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