Friday, September 18, 2009

School Library Gets Rid of Books!

Amazing! The School Library Research Journal reports that Cushing Academy in Mass. is getting rid of their print books. I did some research on Cushing Academy to get an idea of what is going on. According to the school website, there are 450 students enrolled and tuition, room and board set Mom & Dad back $42,850 this year.

According to the Cushing web site, they are not, in fact, getting rid of all of their books - but neither do they say how many they are keeping:
... it is important to know that Cushing Academy is not going "bookless." The issue at hand is merely one of offering books via an electronic or printed medium; many teachers continue to assign printed books in their courses, and students are encouraged to read literature in any format they find most convenient.

Here is a very telling quote from The School Library Research Journal:

Cushing headmaster James Tracy explained that the library is the "nicest space on campus" and that bookshelves wasted precious space that could be put to better use. The library will be transformed into an interactive learning center, faculty lounge, with a $50,000 cyber café and $12,000 cappuccino machine.

"Students never open a book in the library," Tracy told School Library Journal, pointing to an in-house study that shows an average of 48 books in circulation on any given day, 30 of which are juvenile books checked out by the children of faculty members.

I am stunned. The headmaster believes that bookshelves waste precious space! Additionally, the students never use the library. Instead of seeing this as a reason for getting rid of the books, I would rather he see it as a symptom of problems within the educational setting. I would encourage, nay, require, the students to read!

If you look at the circulation, they have an average of 18 books checked out to students on any given day. Now, that isn't 18 students, it's just 18 books. The books could, in theory, be checked out to one student. They are replacing the books with:

18 digital readers, enhanced electronic databases, flat-screen TVs, and laptop-equipped study cubicles—at a cost of about $500,000.

But what happens when that 19th student needs to read a book? All of the readers are checked out! Also, about 90% of the students are boarding students, which means they have rooms and dorms to study in (they even have proctored study hours) and the school already requires each student to have a laptop, so what is the need for the laptop-equipped study cubicles?

While the path this particular library has chosen to take is certainly unique, the plan certainly has raised some questions in my mind. There is, of course, the question of fiscal responsibility. Are there other things that would better serve the students or the surrounding area? Could they not, perhaps, put that same amount of money into a literacy program or a tutoring program for area children? However, the more pressing question, to me, at least, is this - If a student does not read, are they really educated? I am speaking here to the drastically low circulation of this library. They also don't seem to have planned for increased circulation if they are getting only 18 digital readers. Perhaps books can be read from the laptops placed in the library? That would open up logistical problems for their few commuting students as well as their boarding students, would it not?

Now, on a personal note - I wonder if I can get any of their bookcases?

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