Friday, September 4, 2009

things are changing...

A big thanks to my sister for pointing this article out to me.

Cushing Academy, an elite New England prep school, is entering into a very interesting academic experiment: removing the books from their library...

click here to read the article from

I don't really know what to say. It's scandalous, but could it also be the vanguard?

Last weekend in class, a cohort member raised the question: why don't all libraries digitize their collections. The room got hot. Not many people agreed with him, brought it brought up a lot of things to think about.

Will the change from reading a book to reading a devise have any affect on cognitive development and the way we learn? What about phyisical affects, such as the affect on the student's developing eyesight?

Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to preserve a few books when you could spend the same amount of to upload all of the information to a hard drive? Will books simply become cultural artifacts? I think back to the invention of the written word, and how many papyrus scrolls must have been in circulation, relative to the global population, and how few of them remain in museum collections.

What is going to happen when electronic readers are obsolete?

my stomach hurts....

it will be interesting to revisit Cushing Acadamy at the end of the school year, in five years, in ten, to see how things pan out...


  1. I think the crux of the argument about favoring digital over physical books is that because technology is constantly evolving, the digital material we have now might not be accessible in the future. Formats change. Just think of the whole vinyl-->8-track--->cassette--->CD--->digital formats for music. Good luck finding a working 8-track player these days, right? So all the "information" on those millions of 8-track tapes is essentially inaccessible today. This is what librarians and information managers are worried about. How can we all agree on a digital format to store all the information in the world(and that we can access 50 years from now)?

    As it stands, actual, physical books are the most reliable format we have. And you don't have to be able to afford a "reader" for them. Books are portable, accessible, replaceable, and ubiquitous. People from all socio-economic groups can afford books, whereas digital formats tend to appeal mainly to to folks who can afford the gadgets with which to play the files.

    So it's a tricky situation. Personally, I don't see physical books going anywhere anytime soon. Cushing Academy may have their reasons for eliminating their book collection, but I suspect they will regret this decision eventually. Luckily, once they decide to restock their book collection, there are plenty out there to buy.

    And I have a whole other rant regarding e-books, and what a gyp they are. But I'll leave that to another conversation.


  2. I agree with Anne, specifically on her final statements. And you can quote me on this: books, in the format that we know them, will continue to exist for my lifetime. (And we either live into our 90s, or cancer kills us early, in my family.) Technology will keep producing alternatives, but books will remain.

    Your blog can reach an audience (and quickly, to those who possess computers) that is inaccessible by another medium, unless your agent gets you a cush job for that widely-read library magazine you’re always talking about. And I’m typing this comment in a Word document because I’ve already erased what I’ve written twice just by hitting some stupid button. Some people prefer technology, and maybe even most people. But even if digital books took over tomorrow, I and that other guy would still buy all the books that everybody just threw out. The moveable block printing press just made it easier to make papyrus scrolls and get them in the hands of people who could read.

    I say all this, and then I get scared. In my breakroom the other day, only one person was reading a book. And it was me.

  3. Turner,

    You raise some very interesting questions. I have to comment on Anne's response though -- books are NOT affordable to all people regardless of socio-economic status. I coordinate this program, which provides books to young children living in poverty -- because their parents can't afford such an extraneous expense:

    But even if everyone could afford books, what difference does that make with regards to keeping them around? Our society disregards those living in poverty, and if the time comes to decide whether to continue with a print format, the fact that the lower classes read them wouldn't make a difference in the final decision.

  4. I love discourse!

    One thing that we talk about in class is the "information migration." We are always going to be changing the formats we use to store information, and need to reformat our current information from the old to the new.

    However, we cannot forget those who don't have the means to access the new formats.

    As a sociology major, I've always been interested in the fact that class is always the hot botton issue in any form of conversation or debate, from academic to mass media. I feel it's going to be the most important issue to remember when looking at the changing face of information...

  5. button. not botton. man, I wish I could edit my comments.