Traditional Library Books Belong to Museums; Thanks to E-Readers

Cushing Academy administrators, a prep school near Boston, took a courageous decision and decided that the 144 year old school, at this point of time, doesn’t really need a library. Instead, they will buy 18 e-readers to replace the 20,000 books they currently have at school.

Reasonable Move

I personally believe that such a move is a reasonable consequence of where the world is heading to today. It is as simple as this: We no longer need libraries! This is something that may be hard for us to admit as libraries have always been respected for being the place to save and share humanity’s heritage of information. Us, human beings, have utmost respect to knowledge, and to places that we perceive to be its home. But then again, we have reached a point of time where our knowledge moved from library books to online servers. The Internet took us by storm, and changed the way we consume information.

Amazon Kindle on top of a book - take from kindle.amazon's flikr photostream

Amazon Kindle on top of a book

Saving Heritage vs Being Practical

There is a huge emotional, cultural and moral heritage attached to libraries. Although, today, we all know that the Internet is the place where we have a huge chunk of the history of human knowledge, we still find it hard to pass the torch. Libraries, by history and by name, still dominate our perception of being the home of knowledge. It is like the big elephant in the class that everyone refuses to see. It requires some courageous people – like the Cushing Academy administrators – to come up and say: “Hey! Wake up! Why should we keep on maintaining an old system where a new and more efficient one already exists?” It is not easy to break social norms especially when it has such big moral burden, but what is right is right, we have to move on.

Are books obsolete?

A library with no books! via Boston.cocm

A library with no books! via Boston.cocm

While e-books sound like the reasonable next step for the book publishing industry, it still needs to gain popularity and mainstream adoption before we declare the death of paper books. I, again, still favor buying a full weighted, colorful book rather than having a soft copy on my e-reader. Be it for habitual, emotional or any other preference, the hard copy of a book is still my way to go. But on the other hand, I can see that e-books are a much better option in terms of storage. I mean why keep a large space occupied in your home for books when you can have them all on your e-reader? It is so rare for me to go back to an old book of mine and read it again, and it is much more easier for me to just grab my e-reader and look up the information I am looking for. Not to mention that e-books are currently much cheaper!

Will others follow?

I really wonder how long will it take for other schools, governmental institutes, home owners, …etc to realize that they no longer need their libraries. There will be a good amount of spared space that will be left to each entity to innovate about the best way to use it. “I need to go to the library” will be a sentence from the past. Current paper books do indeed belong to museums.

What do you think of Cushing Academy’s move? Is it a bit early to make this shift? Do you think others will follow? Let us know your opinion in the comments section.

Comments and Reactions

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ Beiruta

    I personally prefer hard copy books over e-books any time! Sure they do take up a lot of space and need special care yet they still have a better feel to them…

    I think many institutes will follow, especially colleges and universities that already have special courses for teaching research through the Internet and such.

  • Ithrozada

    What are they planning on doing when more than 18 people need a book? With class assignments where you must have a book source being common place, coupled with people who just enjoy reading, and when two different people need two different books that are on the same e-reader (This assumes that each reader does not have the same book), several people may be left out of the loop.

  • http://blogspot.fluidnewmedia.com Ahad Bokhari

    While i agree with you that E-Books / E-Readers are the future, I very much like the traditional way of reading. Its like not visiting websites and viewing Rss feeds instead, you don't get the whole experience.

    Personally i read alot of PDF's and tech books, but prefer books any-day and last one i finished was Tribes (Hard-Copy). I agree with @Beiruta here, the feeling is what its all about. I went to a prep school myself – Loomis Chaffee in Connecticut, right up there with Hotchkiss Choate and Exeter; wonder what they'd think about ditching there libraries? LOL!

    That said I a whole lot of trees would be saved if we continue the way we are going…

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    heyyy @featureBlend, that is really a good point! We can save a lot of trees! It is just a matter of habit, we will get used to e-books in no time.

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    I guess it is the same as they are doing now. I mean if two student want to read the same book, one has to wait for the other to return it. It works the same way, I am sure that if they found themselves in a need of more e-readers, they will manage to buy more.

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com Amer Kawar

    I read the original post on Boston.com, but something still doesn't fit. Is the school going to pay on per-book basis?

    I agree with Ithrozada, too. 18 e-readers? Does it really make sense that only 18 students use the library simultaneously at any given period of time?

  • Bruce Lutz

    What if the power goes off. The e-reader stops working when its battery runs down. In the very low probability event that something catastrophic happens to our infrastructure all of those internet records become so much junk. I, for one, would feel more comfortable if we had a longer lived, low tech accessible backup.

  • evagill

    Wow- I wondered when this might start to happen. I didn't expect institutions to make this leap just yet, it will be interesting to see how it works out. I'm sure a lot of other schools will be watching. The savings in floor space for the school has to be a big factor, too.

    We're looking at e-readers for our kids when we go on a RTW walkabout next year. We'll home school or private e-school on the road, and will need electronic text books. I'm guessing the kindle text book inventory must be much better than it was a year ago when we last looked. Thanks for sharing this!

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    I think that it does make sense, and besides as I said to lthrozada, they can always buy more!

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    What if fire hit the library? same applies here, no? there is always hazards around us, but an electronic version of a book is more likely to survive than a paper version for a long long time to come :)

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    hey evagill, that is a really great idea! I am sure many other parents wouldn't mind have e-books for their kids instead of the heavy books they have to carry around with them. Will you be sharing your experience anywhere on the web? I would like to read how it goes. Keep us updated :)

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com Amer Kawar

    An average school will have 1000+ students. 18 readers is a tiny portion. It also depends if the e-readers are only used for in-library reading or students are allowed to borrow them. If they are, then it's impossible (I used to borrow books for an entire semester).

    You didn't provide a good enough argument here. So, think about this: if there are 3 (say different) assignments due in 2 days and some reading is crucial, would 18 readers be enough?

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    @amerkawar, you don't counter an argument by claiming that it is not good enough :). Lets say that in the old model we have 3 assignments for 3 different people due in 2 days and in which needed to look into the same book? Would one book be enough? The same logic applies here. You cater the situation at hand with the most feasible solution you think appropriate for your facility.

  • evagill

    Yeah, I have a website up: http://www.gilladventures.com. Thanks for asking. Right now it's mostly about the places we've gone in the past. I wanted to get it up and going before leaving, though. The progress on our trip will be mostly on the blog pages. The main site will house the photo galleries, video, and stories.

    The books are a big deal. The kids are still in public school for the next few months. My older daughter is in middle school, and her backpack is insane. She has to carry home at least a couple of textbooks every night, as well as her subject binders. It can't be good for her shoulders, I know mine hurt after carrying a heavy bag for very long. It seems to me that a shift to e-readers, maybe personal ones for each student, would be ideal. The heavy bag is true for all the kids. I can't see lugging multiple textbooks through Croatia.

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com Amer Kawar

    Fair enough. Allow me to change the argument a bit here. I read a lot of articles on the PC, but the articles that I feel are of important value to what I am working on, I print. Also, as many articles as I read online, I'm still subscribed to a few tech and scientific magazines that I often read from cover-to-cover.

    Also, I think that our – mine at least ;) – attention span on the PC is next to nothing. I can focus when reading on the coach 10 times more than when I'm on the PC. In the middle of writing this comment, I replied to an email, chatted to a friend, and downloaded a song!

    Books are not as outdated, and I think the shift was too early. I think the correct move would've been a slow transition. Have both. Keep the books, and observe the portion of students that still prefer books even though they have all what they need on their home PCs and on the e-readers without the need to look around hundreds of shelves around the library.

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    I don't think it is a matter of preference, it is a matter of convenience here. They have a space that can be utilized for better usage. I salute them for that. I salute people who are daring enough to try new things, others – scepticals like you :P – can wait and measure this experience before following suit :)

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    Wow! I am impressed! It must have been quite an adventure! I applause you do documenting things online. That is pretty interesting.

    Good for the e-readers, you will save your kids much trouble :)

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com Amer Kawar

    I'm cautious by nature, and they reconfirmed that during my studies of Computer Science. One of the most recommended methods of deploying a new system is in parallel with the old system. You need to test it, place new policies/regulations and train users to insure that the service (in this case library) remains uninterrupted.

    I guess I need to enable more levels than 3 for the threads :)

  • Book lover

    Do e-readers come with that wonderful old book smell? Or the feeling of flipping through the book? It's an emotional experience to curl up with a good old book, with it's worn binding, years of patina, and leathery scent. I can't see getting all that from an e-reader. It just doesn't feel the same. Yeah, yeah…I know they're convenient, but can't the traditional book and the e-reader co-exist?

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