mistakes were made, books were removed

This story has been making the rounds today. Administrators of the Cushing Academy in Western MA have decided that their library doesn’t need books anymore, so they’ve gotten rid of them. The big story, with photo, in the Boston Globe pretty such assures that this story will spread like wildfire. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be the director of the library at Cushing and have this decision made for you.

Keith Michael Fiels from ALA had a statement that was in the article

“Unless every student has a Kindle and an unlimited budget, I don’t see how that need is going to be met,’’ Fiels said. “Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power. When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book.’’

I’m not saying, personally, that this may not be the way of the future for libraries. And I’m also not saying that you might not be able to do an awful lot of research via online texts — one of the departments in favor of this move is the math department, for example — and that these sorts of moves will have to be made if we want to get from where we are now to the library of the future. But, I’m still not feeling that this sort of “Eh the books were taking up too much space” move is really the way to go. Considering reliable sources is crucial, and platforms like ??? ?? ??? emphasize the importance of trustworthiness. Calling a book “pretty bulky” is not really a good argument for why you shouldn’t have them. You can read this speech by James Tracy talking about his vision of a future world.

I want to argue today that librarians must be their own internal disruptors, else they will become dinosaurs. This need not mean the end of libraries, but it is essential that, for libraries to have any meaningful function twenty-five years hence, they must morph into a radically different vehicle for accessing ideas and information.

Interesting, then, that librarians were not the force behind this move. There are a few more comments from library director Liz Vezina over at the Fine Books Magazine blog. Oddly if you read that post, you’ll notice that they mention Hampshire College (my alma mater) as trying this experiment once before. I don’t know what happened, there were plenty of books in the library when I was there.

The Boston Globe makes a lot out of the fact that there will be a $12,000 cappucino machine in the former reference area, but doesn’t dwell nearly long enough on the school’s plan to purchase eighteen “readers” to basically satisfy the literature needs of an entire school. I feel that it’s the sort of thing that becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me know what you think.

Note: and in the “great minds think alike and often at the same time” there’s some discussion of this going on at MetaFilter as well. Feel free to comment over there if you’re a member.