Monday, September 07, 2009

School Library Without Books - A Commentary

First, here is the news story from on the Cushing Academy decision. The school gave away the existing library They are planning to replace the traditional paper books with electronic book readers by Amazon and Sony.

Many people have strong opinions about this transition. At the time of this writing there were 440 comments about this news story on the website. There is also a CNN write up about the transition from paper to electronic books. The tech community is also little buzzed about this decision. Check out the comments from the tech blog, Engadget.

The librarian and book bloggers communities are extremely concerned over this switch in book media.

Brian's Book Blog:
Okay, I feel better now. I just don’t understand how they feel that this is a good idea. A print book won’t shut down if it looses battery power. A print book doesn’t get recalled from your shelf like an eBook might from your Kindle.
The Luscious Librarian:
Now, I'm all for technology, especially when you're referring to information that is updated on a daily basis like reference information found in encyclopedias, but that kind of information is not free and requires a subscription. It's also easily controlled or changed depending on who is reviewing and posting the information, the interest groups the information supports or denounces.
Lisa Gold:

This is stupid on so many levels that I forced myself to wait a full day before blogging about it so I wouldn’t rant incoherently. Let me just pose a few questions:

  • Did the librarians of Cushing Academy try to explain to their headmaster that only a small percentage of works are available in digital form, and that most of those aren’t free?
  • Before discarding their 20,000 printed books, did they consider checking to see which ones aren’t available in digital form and keeping those? (In my experience many of the best reference works only exist in print form.)
  • Did they think about the fact that even if the library pays to subscribe to subscription databases and encourages the use of free public domain works (Google Books, Project Gutenberg, etc.), that still means students won’t have access to the vast majority of works published after 1922 and still under copyright?

My Thoughts But More Feelings

I love books. I love the smell of them. I love to hold them and goodness knows I have a few in my bed waiting for me to catch up.

So hearing about a school voluntarily dismantling the library has me at near tears. I don't care if they are rich kids. Every child and teenager needs access to books. I want them to have access to Judy Blume, Malcolm X, and any science fiction book. I'd even put up a scuffle for the sports books and I don't care about sports.

Why? Because books saved my life as a kid. Seriously. Everything from Go Dog Go to Encyclopedia Brown to why do people hate each other? I know how powerful the right book can be in the hands of a person in need.

I would walk the stacks just looking for that book that would call out to me. And if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about then why are you in the library program or reading this post?

This is personal! (and my opinion does not reflect upon PCC or Shatford Library.)

Yes, I like tech and gadgets. Always have and always will. But books are my home. Paper books. When I need to escape and I have no money where do I turn to? A book. When I am searching a past that I have no information on where do I look? I can find an out of print book that has what I need. That out of print book is not going to be in a Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader.

My connection to the pulp is similar to BookishGal on her post about keeping books. I can't throw them out. I pick up stray books if I think they are at risk for disposal.

So to read of someone who is a so-called educator who is proud that they discarded 20,000 books for a $12,000 coffee machine I get teary. And angry. And sad.

Look, I knew the transition was coming. I tried to tell people. But is should be a transition, not a dad gummed purge. This is not the last of it. The state of California is planning to use e-textbooks and will phase them in over time. Textbook publishers are getting read to produce custom content textbooks in electronic form.

Textbooks in electronic form have a places in schools. There is no stopping that process. But literature, philosophy and boatloads of history books cannot effectively be transferred to electronic devices at this time.

This is a loss when even one school library does it. It must not become a trend. If this summer has taught us anything it is that there is no pride in being willfully stupid. It is not a badge of honor.

We can do better than this. We must be informed and, when given the opportunity, speak up.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gena,

Here is another blog post about the very same thing:

One way for the book to survive might be new resources for paper (bamboo, papyrus, kenaf, hemp). The current book use of trees as paper is unsustainable. Digital books offer an alternative to journals/databases in a good way, yes, but young adult literature NEEDS to stay printed in physical form for sure. What do you think?

Gena said...

Yes, I could go along with alternative eco-friendly printing. Over time, physical books had to transition lamb skin, cloth and other substances. Bamboo and hemp work for me.

I'm not against the e-book readers.
I'm thinking about getting an electronic reader when the price becomes more affordable.

I want one as a companion to and not as a replacement for my physical books.

I am really against getting rid of the school library. How can you be a school and no expose students to a viable resource to students?

When a school values a coffee machine more than a book that is just wrong.

Cafe Pasadena said...

I think it's harder for those who have the experience of paper & books.
The next generation may not have that. It will all be via hi-tech, so they won't feel any lost.
A reduction of physical bookstores, now libraries I suppose, is the next logical progressive step.

Gena said...

Yes, that might be true.

I'm seeing bookstores that are purging books for other items to sell. It is more of a meeting place than bookstore.

I just want to slow the change down a bit. I do want the older books brought forward even if it is in an electronic format.

For out of print and and niche published books I just don't know how that will happen.