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Strange Times for Books

“I shall always treasure my books, but I shall do so for antiquarian reasons alone.  I am at the same time tremendously excited, as a reader and learner, by the possibility of someday soon being able to carry the equivalent of the Library of Congress in the palm of my hand.  That will be the realization of humanity’s dream since the inception of discovery hundreds of thousands of years ago.”

Thus spake the headmaster of the $42,850 a year Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, as he announced the school’s plans to get rid of all their books, and replace the library with e-readers and a cappuccino machine.

Okay, no comment here, except it’s hard for me to believe that as Oog and Aag fashioned their first cave drawings a hundred thousand years ago, they were imagining the Library of Congress in the palm of their hands.  images

I learned about Dr. Cushing’s bold plan from the PW blog.  For the school’s 450 students, Dr. Cushing plans 18 E readers in lieu of the 20,000 books–which are all being given away.  And he’s building a $50,000 state of the art coffee shop where the library once stood.

Here’s my own favorite response to the news, posted by someone named Caryn:

“They require no outside device to be useful. They never need to be recharged and can be utilized anywhere, for hours or even days on end. They survive being dropped, tossed around, kept in purses and backpacks, used in the sun and sand. They are decorative. Most never need updating. They provide a unique tactile and often emotional experience. They can be stored for indefinite periods without any loss of function whatsoever. I don’t know, sounds like some advanced technology to me.”

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  • I’m almost speechless. I’d yank my kid out of that school so fast it would make their heads spin.

  • These children are being robbed of part of their education. One of the things people, not just children, love is the feel of a solid book in their hand. The smell of the musty books and markings in them from years past sometimes remind us of those before us. In turn, there is nothing quite like being the first to crack the new book open.

    So instead of giving them the joys of true book lovers, they will crank them up with caffeine and then swear they have ADHD and require medicine.

  • I question the man’s integrity, if not sanity, on the basis that he thinks he can build a state of the art coffee shop for $50,000; especially in the ‘Corridor’. There’s a screw rattling around on the floors of Cushing Academy.

  • You can never have too many coffee shops… Can you?

    Yesterday as WordPress went so slow it nearly died, Facebook went bonkers, and even my email refused to co-operate, I did think about e-books a little. I came to the conclusion that whatever else you might think about them, what do you do if/when the only book you’ve got malfunctions?

    As for the coffee shop man, he can join the ranks of all the town planners who tore down old buildings in the 1960s and replaced them with ugly new buildings, which are now being replaced with copies of old and ‘authentic’ buildings. We wonder what people were thinking in those days.

    One day people will think that about books.

    http://bookwitch.wordpress.com/2008/09/26/norwegian-humour/ And here you can see how groundbreaking the book was, once upon a time.

  • One wonders if the students will be punished for having contraband books in their possession? What will Dr. Cushing’s punishment be for concealing a paperback novel under their pillows? Will they receive a ‘virtual’ smack on the palm with a ruler?

  • Deborah Crouse-Rhudy

    I would add that they look terrific with a bow and birthday card, put a smile on any small child’s face when shared, make great places for permanent sentiments on their flyleaves and don’t glare at your eyes at the end of a busy day.

    Computers do many things well – relax the mind and renew the spirit – not so much.

  • I love the idea of books as contraband–maube this was Cushing’s secreet plan to get the kids reading more!

  • My husband and I are expecting our first child (boy) in just 8 weeks and books have been a HUGE part of the preparation. We have signed favorites from many of our friends and relatives and I’ve been reading to the baby already. Granted, my husband does enjoy an occasional read on his iPod, but he’s not about to give up his stacks of TC Boyle and Harland Ellison either. Nor will I be giving up my collected Judy Bolton girls’ mysteries.

    Sara — I heard you on NPR yesterday! I just read Wide Sargasso Sea this spring myself, having been a lifelong fan of Jane Eyre… yes, especially the cruel aunt and the burnt porridge in that awful orphanage. We do love our “orphan” archetype heroines! Anyway, great analysis of both books and I really enjoyed hearing your voice on the radio.

  • patricia

    Reading that first para, and the proposals, makes my blood run cold.

  • genny from jersey

    I don’t even know where to begin. So he plans to have 18 e-readers. What happens if 19 students want to read something? They have to wait for a free e-reader??? Can they check them out?? What insanity.

    Books are more than just the words on the page. Beautiful bindings, gold gilt, marbled endpapers… they are art in the truest sense of the word.

  • Meghan

    I saw that article, and wondered if you saw it. I’m absolutely astonished and horrified.

  • Twenty thousand books will just about fill a single car garage. I believe I would have kept my books in a garage for a year or two while seeing how my electronic library worked out.

  • Like you, I’m curious about how this move will play out in the lives of the students. And maybe Cushing should have followed Joseph Mansfield’s suggestion–it’s usually a good idea to test a new system before going live!

  • Anna

    I quite often carry out an informal survey of how many people on the bus or Tube are reading books, and they appear to be alive and well in London!

    Someone at work was using an electronic book-reader thingy the other day, browsing it while he stopped for a coffee. Inevitably it attracted a few curious onlookers – including me – who asked him about it. His view was that it was great for someone who did a lot of travel, but he “couldn’t imagine settling in on the sofa with it”. I thought that was interesting from someone who had actually shelled out for the thing, but had no intention of losing his paper books.

    Have to say, though, after having a look at the thing I am *even* less likely ever to invest in one!

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