The Boston Globe writes recently of a prep school that has discarded almost all of its entire collection of 20,000 books in favor of digital readers and digital technology. The headmaster of the school, James Tracy, is quoted in the article as saying: “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books’’ but insists “This isn’t Fahrenheit 451. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’
The article goes on to explain what will replace the library: a “learning center” complete with three flat-screen TVs for projecting date from the Internet, laptop-friendly carrels, electronic readers (like the Kindle and the Sony Reader) and a coffee shop (including a $12,000 cappuccino machine).
A library without books? Sure, a lot of our future is looking digital but a lot of our future is inscribed in the past — which books can help access. And the tactile sensation of books is immensely important. While I didn’t always love the required reading selections as a student, I did enjoy picking up my assigned copy of of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and seeing which previous students held the book before me (some copies inscribed with names from fifteen years earlier), discovering what passages they’d underlined or what crude (or artistic) drawings they’d inked into the margins. The feel, the smell of a book — that can’t come from a Kindle. But a feather in your cap for being a technologically advanced prep school campus — I suppose that can.