Somebody had to go first. In this case, it was Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass. Library observers say it might be the first school – public or private – to trade its paper-and-ink library collection for electronic devices.
An article in USA Today describes the school's decision to jettison most of the 20,000 paper-and-ink books in its library collection (a collection, the school notes, that was barely used – about 0.15% of the books circulated on a typical day) in favor of e-books. The library itself now sports three big-screen TVs and a $12,000 espresso machine.
If students are doing research, they use a laptop or library PC to access one of the 13 databases to which the school subscribes. If they're looking for a specific book, a librarian will help them download it onto one of the library's 65 circulating Kindle e-readers.
Brand-new Kindles are pricey (they can run from from $200 to $500), but Tom Corbett, the school's director of Media and Academic Technology, points out that he often pays as little as $5 to buy an e-book – much less than the price of the hardback books for which he often paid as much as $30.
To say the least, reactions to the new library have been mixed. There are those that praise the school – and James Tracy, its headmaster – for a forward-thinking action more likely to engage today's kids in learning.
But there are others who have compared Tracy to everything from a bookburner to Hitler.
According to the USA Today piece, most of the students "love the new library." But the piece closes with the comments of a few skeptics. The best comes from Gaby Skok, an 18-year-old senior at Cushing Academy who is horrified that her formerly quiet library is now "some hip, trendy place."
Skok told USA Today that she "simply can't believe that Tracy has let flickering TV monitors, à la George Orwell's '1984,' invade the library."
"Dr. Tracy, I love him, I respect him," she told the paper. "But has he read a dystopian novel?"