This morning was a Friday morning, and on Fridays I try not to let the news depress me. On the other hand, it’s been a bad week, news-wise, for some of my heart-held causes, and the front page of The Boston Globe tipped me over the edge at breakfast.
Excuse me? Cushing Academy is getting rid of all of their 20 thousand books in favor of 18 digital readers and a bunch of cubicles with power supplies? They’re deliberating calling it a ‘learning center’ instead of a library?
Have they completely lost their minds?
In a week that has already had horrible news for the world of those who love to read (Reading Rainbow canceled after 26 years, a true heart-breaker for me, who grew up on public television, adored this show & LeVar Burton, and never grew out of loving read-alouds), this is just another example of how shortsighted people can be in the name of ‘looking to the future.’
I’m not even going to touch the (to the daughter of a librarian) extremely obvious issues about authority, editing, responsible use and citation, bias, and availability of certain kinds of information on the web. The internet is not all-knowing, and it hasn’t got all the books in all the world. Neither does a library, but they’re a heck of a lot better at getting them for you when you need them, usually for free. I’m not arguing that there’s no place for digital resources–I use them all the time, and there are some incredible ones out there, like the CIA World Factbook that are an invaluable addition to the use of a standard atlas. But the fact that books can be bulky and need dusting every now and again is not a valid argument for ditching them in favor of things that need power, cost more, and don’t necessarily last as long or work as well.
Ditching books, teaching phonics and mechanics to the exclusion of encouraging why and how to enjoy reading–Are we trying to make sure that in 20 years there’s no one left under the age of 40 who loves to read? Have we let standardization and the all-powerful search button erase the pleasure of accidental discovery?
Reading a book of poetry isn’t just about reading the one poem you went looking for–it’s about how it’s laid out on the page, what poems are put on either side of it, the volume as a whole and what it says about the journey of the poet at that particular point in time. Browsing Amazon.com is not equivalent to wandering the bookshelves of a library–‘viewers who purchased this book also looked at’ is not a substitute for a librarian’s assistance or the joy of coming across something interesting on your way to looking for something else. Going directly to what you’re looking for is a bonus function of some electronic databases, sure, but the same goes for a card catalog. And neither can replace the wonders of serendipity for a true reader, or for someone who has the potential to get there, assuming their library doesn’t get replaced by robots.
In conclusion, vivez les livres!