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School Library Dumps Books in Favor of Internet

posted by Mark on September 11th, 2009

School Library Dumps Books in Favor of InternetEvery day, more and more websites are offering free books to read online, but rarely do they feel like true substitutes for real-world libraries. The prestigious Massachusetts prep school Cushing Academy begs to differ, however.

The 144-year-old institution has decided to get rid of what traditionally makes a library a library — the books — replacing them with three flat-screen TVs that will be used to access the Internet, as well as 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com (Kindles) and Sony (Sony Readers) and specially designed, laptop-friendly cubicles. The price tag for the brick-and-mortar online library: $500,000. That includes the $50,000 coffee shop. (What, no Jamba Juice?)

Understandably, some people are balking at the plans for a virtual library. Even some faculty members at the school bemoan the fact that students won’t experience the tactile joy of browsing books, and they worry that students might become more easily distracted with the electronic gadgets. Then again, the school has reported very little use of the library’s traditional facilities — with as little as 48 of the 20,000 books check out at one time — and the logic makes sense: rather than 20,000 books taking up space, you can offer access to millions of texts in much less space. Some people might find that reading on a digital screen is more numbing and distracting than a book, but the Internet generation of kids has grown up reading on screens, so they’re used to it.

That said, while there’s a ton of information online, is it enough to make libraries obsolete? Doubtful. Although e-books are gaining steadily in popularity, they have a long way to go before catching MP3s, which, as popular as they are, haven’t sent CDs the way of the dodo yet. It might be feasible for other school libraries to follow Cushing Academy’s lead, since students have little say and are more open to new technology, but public libraries that have to answer to the general population might face more opposition. Plus, it would be strange to have children’s “story time” with the librarian holding a Kindle.

Strangely, no one is complaining about pushing coffee to 14-year-olds.

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