Educational Ebooks

Today's Shelf Awareness featured a link to the Boston Globe's article on a prep school that did away with their library - yes, gone, nada, zip - in favor of a digital "media room" (note: the idea is so foreign that they don't even have a proper name for the concept yet).

Now, I'm all for digitizing books for students. I wrote three full-length research papers using NYU's library resources - from Paris. I understand the importance of updating our schools and our libraries to the digital age. But the school is spending $10,000 on 18 e-book readers for students' literary browsings (which, the articles note, is less than the amount being spent on a new capuccino machine to replace some of the stacks). Can these students check out the e-readers? What of the thousands upon thousands of backlist titles not yet available digitally? What about the other 96% of the student population that doesn't get one of the 18 e-readers available?

Beyond that, how many solid, printed books can $10,000 buy? Certainly more than 18. Actually, I'll do the math for you. If the average trade paperback (we'll assume that the number of hardcovers rivals the number of mass markets, for simplicity's sake) costs $15, that would be 667 books. And that's assuming that the library paid full price for the books, which libraries do not. At a standard 40%ish discount, thats nearly 1500 books. 85 times the number of e-readers. And more titles available. To more students at one time. C'mon this is too easy.

Perhaps more importantly, though, why does the digital age have to replace books? Is this just a publicity stunt? If so, it is appalling. If not, it is still pretty appalling. Any educator that claims that books are an "outdated technology" might be trying just a little too hard to update the school to the 21st century, in danger of ignoring the outlasting importance of books-printed books-and thereby depriving his students of one of our most valuable education tools.

That, and if things keep on in this way, we'll see the end of books sooner than we thought. According to the headmaster, in fact, those of us who refuse to get ahead of the digital book curve will be disposable in a decade. Disposable! Us? Readers? BOOKS!?

Doomsday. I think I'm going to be sick.

Update: It seems I wasn't the only one that balked at the concept - PW's Shelftalker composed an eloquent response to the story, and even provides the link to the headmaster's full speech defending his reasons (not particularly convincing, really, but maybe I'm biased.)

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