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Books are Outdated

September 29, 2009

All right, I’ll admit the title was designed to get your attention—and maybe even get your ire up a bit.

However, the title accurately reflects the opinion of the Headmaster of a New England Prep School that recently did away with all the books in it’s library.

If you’d like to read the article, just click here.

Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Connecticut is doing away with it’s 20,000 books. Instead they are spending $500,000 on a digital “learning center” consisting of flat-screen TVs for surfing the net and cubbies for using laptops.

I’m a lover of digital technology AND paper books. I write on my notebook computer AND in my notebook. I appreciate both technologies…And this seems like a radical, and poorly thought out move. Perhaps, a move made for the publicity it might attract, more than for the real benefit of the students. Perhaps the biggest indication that this is a rash move is that the makeover includes a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

Are children really being prepared for a successful career when they won’t be taught how to use—and how to enjoy—books? Will student learn Shakespeare as well when instead of reading Act II to answer their teacher’s question they will learn only to use Ctrl-F to access the search feature?

Do you get the same experience reading a paper book versus reading an e-book? Do you learn the same way with a paper textbook versus a CD-based book?

A media library may be the wave of the future, but we’re not yet to the point of books being outdated. Thank heaven.

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Dale is trying to rediscover the magic of reading paper books. Depression has drained away his desire to read for the last six months or so. He hopes a little hardcover therapy will do the trick.
6 Comments
  1. September 29, 2009 7:33 am

    Would I sound like a Luddite if I said this sounded like a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    When I was at the Byron Bay Writers Festival earlier this year one of the speakers proclaimed proudly the the book (the bound paper version) is still one of the greatest inventions – no hand held device yet can live up to all a book can do. It doesn’t require batteries, or “perfect light”.

    I have yet to read anything other than short stories online electronically. Kindles have been slow to move into the Australian market – are are expensive. While my business sights are set firmly on a digitial future …. I don’t think we should deny children and teenagers the right to choose between their reading medium.

    As you say – sounds like a publicity stunt – or a school which has far too much money for it’s own good.

  2. September 29, 2009 8:17 am

    I have a very hard time with ebooks at this point, largely because my eyes tire faster when reading on the screen. Not to mention the fact that bookmarking isn’t as good in a lot of the common e-book tools (note: I have NOT tried a kindle yet, but other tools have really not met my needs), pagination is cumbersome, different tools use different keystrokes or commands to scrool or page and some of them limit the amount you can see at any one time to just a portion of a page. The technology simply isn’t there yet in my opinion.

    I think the printed book’s ultimate demise will come eventually and it will be replaced by an electronic reader of some sort, but the reader will be different from anything we’ve got today, allowing for better and more precise control over the reading experience as well as allowing for a more comfortable reading experience in terms of the brightness, the battery life, etc. Hopefully they will be solar-powered instead of battery-powered (or flex-powered at least, like many calculators are).

    I think that once the digital technology catches up to books in terms of the overall reading experience, learning will be improved by the greater ability to seek out specific areas of the text. With the number of times I needed to find a specific section of a book for some paper I was writing, an easy “Ctrl+F” experience would have saved me hours of searching and re-reading. I think that if it is done right, electronic means of distribution will provide greater rewards and expand the reach of literature to larger audiences faster… but only if it is done right. And “right”, to me, would mean that EVERY book would be available in electronic format, not just new ones or popular ones but every book that we have printed copies of today. That may be an unrealistic expectation on my part, I suppose.

  3. September 29, 2009 9:29 am

    OK, the cappucino machine is questionable…

    But from an educational libraries’ perspective, e-books make a lot of sense. This way students (and remember, these kids are much more accustomed to all kinds of e-media than us 40- or even 20-somethings) can access a vastly larger collection of books and other publications, without the the school having to increase the space. They’re also freed from the physical worries of maintaining a book collection (mildew, silverfish, photodegradation). And keeping the library up to date will be _much_ faster and easier. Not an issue with Shakespeare, I doubt there’ll be a new edition in the next couple decades that’ll trump the old Riverside, but for any kind of technical literature? Paper does not make sense.

  4. September 29, 2009 9:46 am

    I can see the benefits of an e-reader for periodicals and news papers, but it seems to me that there are still too many negatives associated with digital books. Not the least of which is changing technology. Who’s to say that a Kindle or any e-format, will be able to be accessed 100 years from now, whereas I’m fairly certain my great grandkids would be able to pull my copy of “To Kill A Mockingbird” off the shelf and dive right in.

    I think there is still a reverence for books in general. How many of us look to our shelves and admire our collections. They sit like badges of honor in our living rooms. Gifting an email wouldn’t exactly be the same as lovingly gifting a copy of your favorite book. Sitting on the beach trying not to get water and sand in your reader wouldn’t be the same as pulling a well worn, dog-eared friend from your backpack. I’m all for tech, but I just can’t see the printed word disappearing anytime soon.

  5. September 29, 2009 2:28 pm

    Tiel,

    I completely agree with you that with the younger generation trying to keep paper alive may, ultimately, be a hard sell. It makes perfect sense to go partially electronic, especially for reference books, but to get rid of every book seems extreme. Plus until data rights are worked out over the next few years, these kids may largely lose the ability to study in their own rooms, because they won’t be able to use the e-copy outside the media center.

  6. October 1, 2009 1:44 am

    I know a lot of kids who still read books, and a lot of them, like my sister. I’m all for technology but this seems a bit insane.

    I’m still trying to get my head around eBooks and Digital Publishing. They tell us it’s the next big thing and stores and libraries are forcing in the technology but really, no one’s taking it up themselves.

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