Atrocious + Terrifying.

I started writing about this yesterday, but found myself getting so mad that I stopped being able to form even the sort of thoughts that an amoeba would call intelligent.  When I mentioned this via email to my friend Beth, she wrote back, “Mad is good!  Get mad!”

So, people, I’m about to get mad.  To understand what I’m mad about, first you have to read this.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

To sum up, Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, just over an hour outside of Boston, is replacing their lovely-sounding collection of over twenty thousand books with the following:

  • flat-screen televisions;
  • laptop carrels;
  • electronic readers; and
  • a twelve thousand dollar cappuccino machine.

This would be a good time to try and calm me down.  No?  I’ll continue.

The administration’s argument is books are “outdated,” in the same way that once binding pages together became commonplace, scrolls soon became archaic.  They also state that the books take up too much space, and during the last school year, during a random library inspection, they found that less than fifty books out on loan to students.  Of that amount, over sixty percent of those checked out were children’s books.

In my mind, if students are mainly borrowing children’s books, it means that Cushing’s now-diminished collection must have had a spectacular range of literature geared towards those readers; in fact, the article even mentions that with the exception of “a few hundred children’s books and valuable antiquarian works”, the academy’s books had been donated to other local libraries and schools.  We all know I love a good piece of young adult fiction; you should know I adore a well-illustrated children’s tale as well — but where is mention of Cushing’s selection of relevant adolescent-centric works?  I can only assume that the library neither had nor focused on them, because I can practically guarantee you that if they had, the students would have read them.  I once convinced a book-averse sophomore to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Last Days of Summer for summer reading; later, his mother told me she couldn’t get her son to put either down.  If I could do this out of sheer enthusiasm for authors Stephen Chboksy and Steve Kluger, imagine what a trained librarian could do.

Obviously, Cushing’s librarian is opposed to the academy’s turning her workplace into a “learning center,” but even I, a Godzilla-like devourer of books, fail to be moved by her logic.

“It makes me sad,” she says.  “I’m going to miss them. I love books.”  She goes on to say that when the collection is replaced with Kindles*, something special will be lost: the smell, feel and physicality of books.

To me, this argument is sad.  It would be sad if a librarian didn’t love books, and wouldn’t mourn their loss.  It is sad that a librarian can’t evoke from within her- or himself the passionate debate that a child not encouraged to read — a child praised for Facebooking and Wikipedia-ing — is not one adept at imagining possibilities or producing an analytical deduction.  What’s the point of reading comprehension if all you have to do is type in your questions into a search engine (or a blog post’s comments section)?  All we will end up with is a generation of adults who know how to best formulate search queries and type really fast.  And what is the point of that?  So what if Google can generate answers faster than the human brain?  It is supposed to.  That is its job.

I hate to say this, but I will anyway: if the best argument Cushing’s librarian can rally up is that books feel nice and smell good, then perhaps her library should be taken away.

I’m petering out here, people.  What do you say?

* To be fair, I want a Kindle, but only because when I travel I pack an average of 1.5 books  per each day I’m away.  Basically, that’s my entire carry-on for anything up to two weeks, and a whole suitcase for anything longer.
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4 thoughts on “Atrocious + Terrifying.

    • I wish it were a joke. Check out the last sentence of the fifth paragraph:

      “Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.”

  1. Uh-oh, the technology is taking over the library. Sorry. One would hope that the $12,000 they spent on the cappuccino machine could at least be spent on more kindle books. I agree something is lost when the books are gone.

    • Sure, more money could be spent on more Kindles, but we could list a hundred and one different ways to use that cash, like on programs to encourage leisure reading and author visits, instead of caffeinating teenagers.

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