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Curl up with a Good Computer

The printing press, invented in 1440, increased the demand for books and for years, book printing was considered a true art form. Now, 569 years later have books become old news?

Cushing Academy, a boarding school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, has done away with its traditional library, and in its place, has created a futuristic $500,000 “learning center.”

In a letter posted on the Cushing website, Cushing Academy headmaster James Tracy wrote, “When I look at books I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

In their attempt to embody the ideal 21-century school, the Academy decided to metamorphose their 20,000-book collection into what they call a “virtual library.”

In place of the books, they are filling the space with three large, flat screen projectors, computer-compatible study cartels, electronic readers, and in place of the reference desk, a complete coffee shop.

A survey taken at the school suggested that students hardly used the library, and so the implementing of new technology would be a practical change.

However, not everyone at Cushing was on board for the plunge into the digital world. Some teachers worry that students will be distracted by applications like Facebook and AIM on their computers. Others think it is depressing to no longer have books where one can flip through the dog-eared pages.

Some Cushing alumni, teachers, students, and national news commentators are upset by the changes and think that removing the books was a great loss for the students. One of them is Deerfield Academy Librarian and Director, Lynne Robbins.

“Even people who don’t darken the door of a library are appalled by this issue,” Ms. Robbins commented. “It is important to accept that we need to be in the age of technology, but books deserve to stay offline.”

Ms. Robbins is also concerned that a “virtual library” might lack much-needed security. “A library is a guardian of information and when no one is responsible, things can be censured and charged.”

Luke Mario, ’12 who recently wrote an experimental paper entitled, “Books a Thing in the Past?” commented, “as the world’s youth becomes more obsessed with technical innovation, books become outdated.”

But with our 9000 e-books, 75 databases, and plethora of research guides, Deerfield is certainly partly reliant on electronics. We no longer house VCRs or cassette tapes but in their place are DVDs and CDs.

Deerfield did consider having online textbooks and sent out a poll, receiving a response with 90% against this change. We are not contemplating moving towards an electronic library. And as it stands now, Cushing Academy is one of the first and only schools to have completed this change.

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