Bookless Libraries

Cushing Academy in Massachusetts has set off a firestorm with the decision to remove all print copies of books from its school library.  James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing, says, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

Headmaster Tracy believes that the purchase of 18 eReaders and additional computers will meet the reading needs of their student body; others, however, do not share that optimism.   The school is spending over $500,000 to create a “learning center” in place of a library; while the official name for this new conceptual space is not yet finalized, it will feature three large screen televisions, study carrels designed to facilitate laptop use,  and a $50,000 coffee shop.    It is not clear which school stakeholders other than Tracy were involved in this decision or how this decision was made other than Tracy’s concern that the books were taking up too much space for the current library facility.

In a May 14 speech to the Noble and Greenough School,  Headmaster Tracy stated:

“I no longer see the point of maintaining this huge warehouse of underutilized space that we call a library.  Better to free up that space while at the same time expanding by many orders of magnitude the school community’s access to information, literature, art, music via terminals that I term “Portals to Civilization.”  Rather than libraries becoming obsolete, we can transform them into vibrant centers of learning, giving ready access to everything humans have achieved, from every civilization, across an ever-expanding universe of culture.  At the same time, we can use the space now freed up from books to build convivial areas where students and teachers are encouraged to interact – yes, even talk –  about ideas, so it becomes a place of interaction…”

Apparently, Headmaster Tracy doesn’t realize that school libraries are more than a “warehouse” and that they can indeed be places of authentic learning, interaction, and conversations; in fact, they already are in schools across our country!  While I respect and applaud  his desire to incorporate 21st century learning tools and to increase access to more books,  Tracy lacks a fundamental understanding of how school libraries should function  and that they can reflect all the qualities he desires without creating an “either/or ” situation on his campus.   Why not weed outdated or little used titles and keep the print copies that are essential, popular, and supportive of the school curriculum while adding the ebook options instead of making ereading the only option?

What is especially troubling to me is the absence of any discussion in the article about the role school librarians play in cultivating information literacy skills.   People like Headmaster Tracy assume that all one has to do is present access to the information, and that is enough.   No mention is made in the Boston Globe article of who will facilitate this space or how this “learning center” will enhance students’ information literacy skills.   If the certified school librarian is not to be leading this “learning center” how will students master the skills set forth in the AASL Standards for 21st Century Learners or NETS for Students ?

As you can imagine, the blogosphere is abuzz with debate over the pros and cons of this radical decision.  Here are a few blog posts (and ensuing comments) to consider for reading:

What are your thoughts on this issue?   Please share your ideas here!

Buffy Hamilton
Teacher-Librarian
Creekview High School, Canton, GA

*crossposted from the AASL blog*

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About Buffy J. Hamilton

I am a writing and Language Arts teacher who loves learning, literacy, stories, learning, dogs, poetry, fabulous shoes, and good lip gloss. I began my career as a high school English teacher in 1992 and then became a high school librarian and 2011 Library Journal Mover and Shaker before returning to the classroom in August 2016.

Posted on September 5, 2009, in Debate and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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