The news these days is chock full of libraries without books. Maybe there’s a conspiracy by the press to make "traditional" libraries seem antiquated and horrible so that they decline alone with traditional media. Or maybe they’re just having slow news days. Either way, if the library of the future has no books, then the future is now, whatever that hoary cliche is supposed to mean.
By now you’ve probably seen this article a kind reader passed on to me about a Massachusetts prep school eliminating all the books in its library because the headmaster thinks books are an "outdated technology." When we consider that books are pretty much guaranteed to last hundreds of years with the proper care, or that most books in the world currently being published are still being published in print form, or that most books are not available in digital form, or that millions of print books are bought and read each year in this country alone, I can’t see what the argument is for calling them an outdated technology. Of course, the headmaster doesn’t have an argument, so the point is moot.
The reporter calls books "those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s," which is probably how the headmaster sees them. Actually, they have been transmitting information since the fourth century or so when the codex supplanted the scroll. 1600 years and still going strong, which is considerably more than the lifespan of the Kindles that the school is handing out to replace books. Kindles are nice and all, don’t get me wrong, but one wonders if much thought has really gone into this project if anyone thinks a handful of Kindles can really replace a school library.
One reason for getting rid of all the books is that, as noted in the article, no one was reading them, which isn’t surprising since it’s a truth universally acknowledged that hockey players don’t like to read books. This might have been an incentive for assigning more literature or history projects, but it’s a lot easier just to get rid of the books. The librarian, who based on the library’s website tries to instruct the students about library research and evaluating sources and all that, laments the move, but probably no one paid attention to her opinion. After all, when you’re redesigning a library, the last person you want to confer with are the people actually working there.
Another reason they didn’t mention is that they just didn’t have that many books to begin with. 20,000 books is a pretty small library. It’s no wonder the students weren’t checking out any books. They didn’t have much of a selection to choose from.
My favorite part of the article is what they’re putting in place of the books. Part of the space will be devoted to three enormous televisions that, according to the article, "will project data from the Internet." I have a feeling the verb should have been can instead of will, and that most likely the "learning center" will be a good place to go to watch ESPN, Hannah Montana, or whatever else it is the kiddies watch these days. Three gigantic TVs blaring all the time should make learning a lot easier. And just think how glossy and innovative the space will look to prospective students and their parents, who obviously have more money than books anyway.
I don’t really care what happens at some prep school that I neither work at nor attend. However, I do feel a little sorry for the reference librarian, if they even have a reference librarian. "Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine." I’m not bothered by the lack of a reference desk, since reference desks are a far more outdated technology than printed books. But for the reference librarian there has to be something a little humiliating about being replaced by a coffee machine. The only saving grace is that it’s a really expensive coffee machine. We know from all the stereotype-defying articles that librarians are changing their titles to sound more hip. Now, in addition to "information manager" and "cybrarian" we can add "barista." It’s a brave new world!
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