Chances are, your school library looks something like the one pictured to the left. Shelves, tables, chairs, carrels, computers, and loads and loads of books. That is, unless you teach at a place like Cushing Academy, a prep school outside of Boston.
Cushing Academy is getting rid of its library's books. Please read the following article and note your initial reaction: boston.com article
Yes, you read that correctly. The Headmaster believes that books are outdated, and he is promoting his school's "bookless campus."
I passed this article along to my colleagues here at Columbus Academy a few weeks ago, and I asked for their responses. Here are a few:
"I think I'll start curling up at night with my girls and my laptop. We can even have a digital voice read the stories...why learn how to read or spell? Why do I even need to be there with them?"
"I love holding a book in my hands. No six inch screen can ever replace that experience. In my opinion the school has made a serious mistake."
"I'd rather spend hours in a library (with books!) or bookstore than on the computer anytime."
"My favorite places are libraries, 1/2 priced book stores, my own shelves of favorite reads, etc., with racks and racks, pages and pages of experiences waiting to be had. I don't know... I'm not sold."
"The only good thing coming out of that is the cappuccino machine."
And my favorite comment, from one of our librarians:
"I can't imagine a world without books."
When I read this article the first time, I was shocked and dismayed. As a language arts teacher, an part-time library science student, a mother, a book-lover, I could hardly believe what I was reading. Flat screen TVs, Kindles, and a coffee shop? What are they thinking? I was sure Cushing was an anomaly.
Then I picked up the November issue of "Learning & Leading With Technology," a great journal that our librarians make available to us. Lo and behold, on the cover, I see the following: "Do Schools Still Need Brick-and-Mortar Libraries?" The article is a point/counterpoint type of thing, just two people's very different opinions. It seems that this is becoming an actual debate in education. On one side, there are those who think the book-filled library is essential in school. They advocate for a dedicated collaborative learning space, and they are deeply concerned about the Wild West terrain of the internet that students access, often without assistance. On the other side, there are those who believe that "words are words, whether read in a book or on a computer. The mode of delivery means nothing as long as there's comprehension in the mind toward which those words are directed." (p.8) This same person, someone who is teaching his son to read using a computer and a digital camera, sighed with contentment when his son drifted off to sleep with his arm wrapped around a laptop. That made him all warm and fuzzy inside?
How is this even a debate? Books are not the equivalent of "scrolls before books" as the Cushing Academy Headmaster believes. Ebooks don't have weight; they are not visceral. You can't look at shelves full of ebooks and take in the beauty of the colors and designs of real covers and bindings. An ebook can't draw you to it and sit in your hands like a charming piece of interactive art. I happen to have a Sony Reader, and it's useful and practical, but it cannot take the place of my books.
Our IT guru had a different take on the whole thing, one that gave me pause. He didn't have the passionate outrage that we teachers felt and wrote about. His response was tempered. He asked that we acknowledge the direction in which the world is moving and consider that there is a place in that world for other writing formats. He has a point. Kids are not like us anymore. I have taken a step back from my heated indignation. Teachers love books. Adults think they're lovely and wonderful. Kids probably don't feel this intimacy with books like we adults do. We grew up with books being our primary interaction with words and stories, but that's not their world. They have so many ways to view and hear and understand storytelling, we are going to have to admit that books are just one of their many configurations of text.
Are we trying to save our own species of dinosaur because we don't want to step into the Jetsons' world?
I don't know...The pace at which all of this is happening to too fast to fathom. There is something to be said for slowing down, settling into your favorite chair, and opening the real paper pages of an actual book. I'm going to stick to my original stance. We do need real, brick-and-mortar libraries with real, material books. Cushing Academy may be forward-thinking, but they are also, ironically, short-sighted. They'll surely be on the cutting edge with their Kindles and their cappuccino makers. But someday, they'll miss the books. They'll miss them when their beguiling, dog-eared, hardbound copies of A Tale of Two Cities and Rebecca and The Giver have turned into this: