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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Kindle sparks flame of controversy

With such a prevalence of new technology and innovative devices making it easier for people to read anything anywhere, a pillar of our society may soon be faced with elimination.

E-readers such as the Kindle, BlackBerries, iPhones and laptop computers have all made reading more nomadic.

This raises the question: Who goes to libraries, and do we still need them?

The answer to this is surely a subjective opinion, differing from person to person for different reasons.

In a New York Times article that ran Wednesday, the editorial board opened a debate examining the need for book-filled libraries. A group of authors, librarians and college professors all weighed in with their views of libraries and what the future ideally holds.

James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, told the Times he had recently moved his school’s library away from exclusively using traditional books and more toward e-books and computer stations.

According to the editorial board, Tracy is not alone.

“Suzanne E. Thorin, the dean of libraries at Syracuse University, reached a similar conclusion when she said at the 2009 Educause Conference ‘…we need to move on to a new concept of what the academic library is,’” Tracy told the board.

Tracy’s reasoning was similar for the same type of move at his secondary school.

“A small collection of printed books no longer support the type of research required by a 21st century curriculum. We wanted to create a library that reflected the reality of how students do research and fostered what they do, one that went beyond stacks and stacks of underutilized books,” Tracy said.

The idea that getting rid of books is a move to cut costs is proven wrong by the amount of capital making such a change would require. A library that shifts toward digital media is a library that is investing in its own future.

Tracy told the board he still has a fondness for books, but also finds his library’s transformation more efficient.

“By reconceptualizing our library, our teachers and students now have better access to vast digital resources for research and learning,” Tracy said.

The board spoke to others who said they prefer the more traditional methods of heavy books and the decimal systems that organize them.

Matthew Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, is an example.

“Books and libraries are working (or living) models of knowledge formation,” Kirschenbaum told the board. “We need them for the same reason we need models of atoms and airplanes. They are hands-on. They are immersive. Holding a book in our hands, we orient ourselves within a larger system.”

Kirschenbaum said he values lessons that Internet pages and e-readers cannot emphasize — the lessons of where something came from and what its limitations are.

“Books, precisely because of their (literally) bounded limitations, teach us to ask questions that are no less essential for the databases and deep archives of the online world,” Kirschenbaum said.

Liz Gray, the library director at a boarding school in Massachusetts and president of the board for the Association of Independent School Librarians, talked with the editorial board about the importance of reading and libraries designed toward a student’s curriculum.

“My responsibility as a school librarian is to encourage reading, which all the research shows is crucial to student success,” Gray said to the board. “Focused, engaged reading occurs with printed books and far less with online material.”

Gray said that students at her school enjoyed using e-readers, but weren’t ready to give up books quite yet.

“The two Kindles that I purchased for my library are popular, but they have not taken the place of books, just as audio books are not everyone’s cup of tea,” Gray said.

Gray said she disagrees with librarians and educators such as Tracy who move mainly toward electronic devices as a way of trying to keep up with technology, and her justification was astute.

“Cushing Academy’s decision to dispose of most of its library books unnecessarily deprives that community of an irreplaceable resource,” Gray said. “We don’t have to choose between technology and printed books, and we shouldn’t.”

Andrew Taylor is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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