Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Massachusetts Private School Trashes Library - Opens Coffe Bar Instead

Here we go. I suppose it had to happen sooner or later, but Cushing Academy's decision to dump almost its whole library in favor of a lavish rec room seems a little empty-headed to me. According to this USA Today article, the school junked almost all of its library books in favor of Kindles, big screen TVs and a coffee bar. Welcome to the Cushing Cyber Cafe, boys and girls:
Its 20,000-book collection was barely used, administrators say. Spot checks last year found that, on some days, fewer than 30 books, or about .15%, circulated. And it was becoming rather lonely down there.
[...]
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.
[...]
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."
The USA Today article does a good job enumerating the pros and cons of a high school taking this approach with its school library so, if you still find yourself on the fence, you should take the time to read the whole thing. Myself, I have to wonder why these school administrators think that a bunch of students who don't seem to be readers in the first place are suddenly going to become avid readers/users of e-books. I suspect that once the "new" wears off, they will just be watching a lot of television and getting wired on all of the expresso being cranked out by their fancy new coffeemaker.

Private schools can get away with this kind of thing as long as apathetic parents let them but if I were a student there I would hate to have my research limited to only the books available on Amazon.com.

Perhaps Cushing Academy should change its name to Amazon Academy.

12 comments:

  1. On the other hand, the private school where my daughter works is building a new library just for its middle school!

    I wonder if Cushing parents were even consulted about this. And if the library was not being used, whose fault is that? If students were required to use it (maybe to learn how to do research!) then it would not be so empty. GRRRRR

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  2. The quality of the library's materials can have a huge impact on circulation rates. Makes me wonder if the library was properly being funded before it was dumped. If the librarian didn't have the funds to update her collection and had nothing but some old, tired books then of course her circulation numbers are going to be low. I don't know all the details, but a school that spends $12,000 on a coffee machine does not have its priorities straight and probably was never funding the library properly to begin with.

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  3. As much as I love books, and as much as I'll miss them when they're gone, I think that's where we are clearly headed. We are living through a revolution that may produce change even more profound than Guttenberg did with movable type.

    The world of reading 20 years from now, won't look like it does today.

    Fortunatley, I keep a very large TBR stack that will last me several years.

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  4. A town nearby just built a HUGE library(its not even finished quite yet). I'm excited about it, but in this day and age, I'm frightened about it not being used like it should. I have to pay a yearly fee to use this library, because my county does not have one. Boy, do I get my moneys worth!! I just wish I didnt have to pay!

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  5. How much tuition does that school charge that they can buy a $12,000 coffee machine? And since when do high school students drink that much coffee? People hardly drank coffee when I was in college.

    Why do they need to build a place for students to congregate? Isn't that what the smoking circle is for?

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  6. These stories about schools ditching libraries are so sad. Will students of the future be unable to ever go somewhere that they can simply roam the stacks, letting serendipity take them where it will? I can't imagine the loss of that ability to browse -- not to mention the smell, the feel of real books. Sad, sad, sad.

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  7. JoAnn, I completely agree with you that if students were not using the library as it was the blame should be placed on the teachers and school administrators. They, though, seem to have access to more money than common sense.

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  8. Exactly right, Alissa. If they were shortchanging the library but can blow 12 grand on a fancy coffeepot, something smells...and I think I smell it all the way from here.

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  9. C.B., I can't understand how this will work. Good research books are not all sold on Amazon, nor do they even exist in e-book format elsewhere. So research will suffer and valuable tools will disappear.

    And who is to buy the books that one or two students need for their school work? This idea does not impress me because of how these guys were so willing to jump out there and do it without really thinking it through...too much money to be wasted? The school staff reminds me of the U.S. Congress.

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  10. Enjoy it while you can, Kayo. Things are changing and I'm not sure that all this change in publishing is really a good thing.

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  11. I don't know factotum...is this a case of poor little rich kids and their parents demanding this kind of thing or of school staff kissing up to the kids to keep their own jobs? It is very odd.

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  12. That is a great point, BookFool. Through the years, I have discovered scores of books by simply wandering from one shelf to the next and picking up whatever title caught my eye.

    I would have missed some great books if everything had only been available in e-book format. That kind of search is just not the same - nor will it turn up nearly so many little unexpected gems.

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