Well, at least one person disagrees with me: James Tracy, the headmaster of Cushing Academy, a snooty prep school for rich kids west of Boston. I picked up this story from The Boston Globe, written by David Abel on September 4, 2009.
“This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks—the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.
“Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a ‘learning center.’ In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.
“And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they’re stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature."
I am aghast. 3 large TVs for what, cluster reads? 18 e-readers for several hundred students? Wait until some scholar spills his or her cappuccino on the Library Kindle: William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice will be making her choice much sooner than expected.
The real tragedy, of course, is encouraging young people to read—and not just the blockbusters like Harry Potter and The Twilight Saga. Without rows of bookshelves (called stacks in the article) and real books to browse, how will a student know that Sophie’s Choice (or any other book) even exists?
The purpose of a prep school is to teach, to prepare the rich kids for the rich universities like Harvard and Radcliffe. Classes in polo and croquet are fine, but not at the expense of English and literature.
"Jemmel Billingslea, an 18-year-old senior, thought about the prospect of a school without books. It didn't bother him.
"'It's a little strange,' he said. 'But this is the future.'"