Private School Library Goes All Digital, with Coffee

by NYC Firm Schools on November 6, 2009

The Cushing Academy in Massachusetts has the distinction, for good or ill, of becoming to first school to change its library completely over to digital. USAnewstoday.com featured a story on the school who’s library now consists of computers and a lot of loaned out Kindles.

Library watchers say it could be the first school library, public or private, to forsake ink and paper in favor of e-books. It also represents the first time a school has placed its students’ intellectual lives so fully into the hands of a few online publishers and makers of electronic devices.
Researching the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919? Use your laptop (handed out to students on financial aid) or a library PC to access the 13 databases to which Cushing now subscribes.
Reading David Copperfield in English class? A librarian will gladly download it onto one of 65 Kindle handheld electronic book readers from Amazon.com, which circulate like library books.

The school headmaster explained that, in recent years, the school’s library had been almost completely unused, collecting dust and not able to keep up with the research pace that a simple search engine could provide.

So the venerable boarding school west of Boston — the first in the USA to admit both boys and girls — last summer undertook another first: It began getting rid of most of the library’s books. In their place: a fully digital collection.

The reactions to this have been mixed, partly due to the headmasters’ unintentional slight on the usefulness of the written word in general.

Many book-loving bloggers gave Tracy grief for telling the Globe, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.” But he says he was talking about books’ usefulness for research, not for pleasure reading.
“If I look out the window and I see a student reading Chaucer, to me it’s utterly immaterial whether it’s a paperback or a Kindle. I’m just glad that they’re reading Chaucer.”

Another negative reaction has been to the rather extravagant purchase of a $12,000 espresso machine for the library’s coffee bar.

Three big-screen TVs now greet visitors at the entrance, and the old circulation desk is now a coffee bar. Officially it’s called Cushing Cyber Cafe, but students quickly nicknamed the spot “12K Cafe” after its $12,000 espresso machine.
He concedes that the $12,000 coffeemaker has become a distraction, but he says the real idea behind the cafe was to create “a new commons, a new agora, where people in a convivial setting exchange ideas and socially interact around ideas with culture and literature at their fingertips.”

Whichever way you choose to look at it, the changeover from tactile page to e-book readers such as the Kindle are changing the way we all use libraries.

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