Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Future is Now

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about a Massachusetts prep school eliminating all the books in its library because the headmaster thinks books are an "outdated technology."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print books are bought and read each year in this country alone, I can’t see what the argument is for calling them an outdated technology.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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  1. There is something wrong with a school that checks its records, finds out that only 48 books are checked out and reacts by getting rid of all books. Look at your curriculum, look at teacher plans and ask for an improvement in the educational process. What college is going to accept these students? What workplace is going to hire them?

  2. This story, and the commentary on this blog, are priceless! :-) What can I say? There are stupid people even in Massachusetts ;-)

  3. I think the plethora of these stories lately makes it seem like this “library of the future” stuff is a common thing, which is troubling. What’s also troubling is that the profession is being written about and given an image or a set of images/”values” and the profession itself isn’t putting forth its own image–at least not successfully (Tattooed Librarians…)

    @Aj: well, it’s becoming pretty typical that many undergraduate students don’t use real-live books either. Sometimes they’re encouraged/forced to, but depending even on the discipline, a lot of book collections are not even being developed anymore in favor of journals.

    I see a lot hasn’t changed even since my not-so-long ago high school days when the school library was little used (and mostly off-limits–we needed a pass to get in!) It looks like they’re spending a lot of money on things that will be obsolete in a few months rather than investing time and effort into information literacy projects (no mention of that…)

  4. Dances With Books says:

    Oh, somebody will likely accept them in college and then hire them. You know, there are legacy admissions, donors who give beaucoup dinero so their spawn get into the chosen college, and plenty of nepotism to hire the less than bright but well-heeled graduates who will likely make it with “gentlemen’s C’s.”

    Interesting that the book has lasted as long as it has, and will likely last longer, and yet the short sighted see it as an outdated technology. What does get me is that a lot of the big shot twopointopians probably think this is all cool. Just plug in a Wii into one of those big screen TV’s, and you are set.

  5. The “media centers” around here have few books anyway. When I was touring the public high school with my freshman daughter the guide commented on how they didn’t need books anymore with all the databases.

    I would, however, love to have a cappuccino machine where my desk is. Yum.

  6. I don’t think waving a bunch of shiny Kindles in front of kids is going to make them interested in reading. I remember being offended as a wee schoolgirl when adults waved ubertech shiny gadgets at me, thinking that would spur an interest in education.

    And has no one considered how expensive it’s going to be to upgrade all that equipment, year after year, as opposed to the selection/deselection process of a school library?

  7. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    The man’s an idiot but that can be said about lots of folks in the education field. No, it wasn’t much of a library so I have to wonder how “prepatory” this prep school was anyway.

  8. Kindles are the way of the future. Just like my BetaMax VCR and my trusty Commodore 64. To heck with books.

  9. Kindles are the way of the future. Just like my BetaMax VCR and my trusty Commodore 64. To heck with books.

  10. Printing presses are evil. They are putting books into the hands of the great unwashed.

    I say we return to the days of monks copying books by hand.

    Only then will we be able to control what the people read.

  11. I’m not sure hockey players drink cappuccino, either.

  12. another f-ing librarian says:

    what’s the deal anyway, with school libraries? are they ever open before or after school? i’m just asking, because ours wasn’t; and during class time, i was in class and not permitted to go to the school library. we had literature assignments for some classes. those were that thing in which every student in the class had a copy of the book. those books were textbook-like thingies. even though they were regular books, they were purchased by the school out of the textbook budget, and every student had use of a copy until that unit was done; then they were returned to the instructor. not to the library. i did use the library, though. i would use 5 minutes of my 20-minute lunch period to eat; then run up to the library, where i got some of the best sci-fi i’ve ever read in my life — and the school librarian and library assistants would gripe about how busy it was at the circ desk over lunch. school libraries can be important, and are an amazing addition to a person’s education if they are made important in curriculum planning — but too often they are all but sidelined. any bets on whether the massachusetts prep school does any better integrating their new cutting-edge electronic library into their curriculum than they did with their print library?

  13. ChickenLittle says:

    This article should be a concern for all of us, even though it is a small school library….chances are many growing up will utilize a school library if it is available, will they use a public library? Probably not! The window of getting people to use libraries is very slight, if they get into good habits when young, chances are good they will stay when older. Well not always….my own kids used their school library but hate the public system! And who can blame them? Especially since it is now a home for weirdos!

  14. SuziLibrarian says:

    “my own kids used their school library but hate the public system! And who can blame them? Especially since it is now a home for weirdos!”
    Hey don’t talk about my coworkers like that!!

  15. With no books in the library, it’s unlikely the school will make it past their next accreditation visit, but with a headmaster like that, I suspect they will have bigger problems than the library.

  16. books are pretty much guaranteed to last hundreds of years with the proper care” Oh, but so will our laptops, I-pods, and Kindles! … wait, you meant “last hundreds of years and be usable” didn’t you??

    Never mind.

  17. Yes, we know, the only place to find information is from a book from your friendly neighborhood librarian.

    Information received anywhere else is a pack of lies.

  18. Irrational buffoons started telling us ten years ago that libraries with print book would disappear within ten years. The amazing new laptop computers that were wonderfully portable and that didn’t even need a phone line anymore to connect to the internet were (like the e-book reader today, supposedly) going to make reading so much easier and obviated the need for any book printed on paper, anywhere, at all, anymore, ever.

    Also, remember how in the 1960s we were told that microfilm was going to change the world?

  19. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    “Massachusetts “

    Isn’t that where they murdered all those “WITCHES” way back when? So then it stands to reason that maybe the Stoopidity gene passed down along some bloodlines.

  20. Dan the Goalie says:

    ” . . . since it’s a truth universally acknowledged that hockey players don’t like to read books.”

    I take personal umbrage and offense at that statement. I am a hockey player, and have been for some 20 plus years of my 43 years, and I read books.

    I currently have two bachelors degrees, and am working on a third (School Librarianship).

    I am a certified teacher actually working at a school. Oh yeah, one of the things I do is work with students on reading skills.

    I’m guessing that none of this would have happened without reading.

    Did I mention the fact that there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 7000 books in my house. They are not there for decorative purposes.

    I’m not going to go overboard, and get obnoxious over your statement. I would however recommend that you spend four minutes (it was worth a double minor) in the box for your stereotyping.

  21. Dan the Goalie says:

    As an addendum . . . I have never had a cappuccino. Black coffee . . . the way the “Hockey Gods” decreed long ago!!!

  22. Elsevier Science says:

    If your library purchases Elsevier Science books and you fancy a Facebook information feed on new titles, join up here Best regards,

  23. Philly area librarian says:

    18 Kindles? 18? Geez, I guess the students really don’t read, or I can’t imagine 18 would be sufficient for an entire student body, especially after they get $12,000 cappuccinos spilled on them. If they really *had* to dump the books, the administrators could at least have made a nod to education and spent only $1000 on a glorified coffee machine and bought double the number of Kindles. Since when to high school-aged kids need cappuccinos anyway? Isn’t caffeine bad for teenagers?

    And Dan, it’s called humor, for Pete’s sake.

  24. Ya know, the fabled Library of Alexandria probably disappeared just like this. Some Egyptian politico decided that codices, distributed around the empire, would make information ever so much more accessible that all those blasted scrolls chained in place there in Alexandria.

    Suddenly … POOF! … the Library of Alexandria disappeared.

  25. Wikipedia just told me that the Library of Alexandria was probably destroyed by fire.

  26. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Looking at this situation made me examine my own anti technology stance. Why not give every kid a Kindle thats only 400K for a moderate size school then of course you still have to buy the books Those arnt to bad 10,000 titles at 20 or so dollars $200-$400K for about a million dollars. Thats not to shappy. Its about $1000 per student. Prep-school parents can afford that. Now the real question though are the students going to use the Kindels? Is it going to make any improvement in their education or information literacy or are they going to just Google it? I think anyone who spent time with kids know the answer to that one. Would it not be easier if they just bought 10,000 more books it would have been cheaper thats for sure!

  27. I’m just completely appalled that more will be spent on a cappuccino machine than e-readers. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my $5 fancy lattes as much as the next person in line at Starbucks, but honestly.

  28. Hey, I think I saw Molly Ringwald in that movie. No, that was 16 candles not 18 Kindles. Maybe they could remake it?

  29. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    Well if books are going away, why do many public libraries show circulation numbers that keep going up? Some of those people are checking out books, and not just DVDs.

  30. I know that the purpose of this column on Library Journal is largely humorous, but with such poor articles as the Globe one informing people about technology in libraries, there is no value in smugly playing the role of the persecuted librarian being displaced by coffee machines and dumb, TV-addicted patrons. Books are indeed far from being an outdated technology, if nothing else because of their simplicity. Ebooks are distributed in closed formats, are hindered by DRM, and can be remotely deleted. Ebook readers run out of batteries, are expensive, become outdated, and break, like any other technology. But the question isn’t books vs. ebooks, it’s how we can be well-informed and wise enough to embrace the valuable aspects of the new without abandoning what is worth saving about the old. I don’t know if or how well Cushing Academy or other libraries are doing this, because nothing I’ve read has been honest or focused enough to present any concrete ideas that bring us closer to answering this question.

    I wrote (slightly) more here:

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