Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Bookless School Library

"When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books..."
Cushing Academy (Ashburnham, Massachusetts) Headmaster, James Tracy
And the 144 year old New England prep school has decided to "walk the talk" and discard its 20,000 book collection which has served generations of kids for a century and a half...no measured "bridging" from one media to another needed here - feels about 451 farenheit right now, though Headmaster Tracy went out of his way to emphasize that this is not "that" situation.

The academy is spending about $500,000 to build a learning center:
In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine...[and] $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com and Sony
Boston Globe
This school wanted to optimize modern technology and build the virtual library and learning centre, to capture and address the real learning needs of today's young learners...young digital learners come this September. The school's pursuits are definitely veiled in very noble intentions but from all the articles we've come across this appears a Sophie's Choice for the modern school library - purchase more space / add another wing and expand the school to build in the new technologies, OR, eliminate books to accommodate the technology. So, which do you think is cheaper?!

The sad thing is we need both. In fact, the school library needs to now be seen as the heart of learning institutions, especially middle school and high school. But I can understand Headmaster Tracy's dilemma. The workplace which our students will walk into will be completely wired, and how they work, think, collaborate, and negotiate will be digitally based. As such, when do we make the decision to transition, to shift, learning from one medium to the other "multi-media" paradigm? And if we do keep books how do we maintain them as a relevant part of the students' learning process...

Well, realistically, in Toronto, Canada, where we live and teach, this is an issue for 10%-20% of schools (at best). Many inner-city schools still have a high number of students who have no access to computers outside of school or an Internet Cafe. And most schools still struggle to find enough cash in their budget to allow them to purchase some new books for the upcoming year.

If we can integrate some free, collaborative tools into our classroom activities, successfully negotiate access to the half of the class that have no home computer access, and get the class sharing and working as one on online assignments, then we've achieved a minor miracle...but teachers do that on a daily basis, don't we.