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September 4, 2009 3:58 PM   Subscribe

"When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books," said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a learning center. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.
posted by tamarack (129 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there another planet I can escape to? Because I'm increasingly sick of this one.
posted by scody at 3:59 PM on September 4, 2009 [37 favorites]


18 E-Readers to replace an entire library? Does Cushing have a .01% literacy rate or something?

As for computers, I do a lot of reading on one, at about half the speed I read on paper.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:02 PM on September 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Proposal: James Tracy-free campus.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:03 PM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


James Tracy







Fuck this guy.
posted by fleetmouse at 4:04 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The director of the library I work for will be forwarding this to all staff on Monday. Yippee.

The future's here and it's fouling the keyboards with frappucino-sticky fingers.
posted by codswallop at 4:06 PM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


18 E-Readers to replace an entire library? Does Cushing have a .01% literacy rate or something?

From the article:

School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:07 PM on September 4, 2009


I'm curious about circulation numbers. Now that I think about it, I spent very little time in my high school library browsing books because the collection was dwarfed by the local municipal libraries.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:08 PM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why this article is so focused on the costs of things like coffee machines and televisions. It detracts from the actual take-away, which is that there's a school experimenting with replacing library stacks with digital readers. Which is good --- we need early adopters to try new things so we can learn from their failures. And this will fail. They don't have enough digital readers: Every student needs one. And I suspect the digital readers' libraries are woefully understocked when it comes to older and out-of-print books, which are the really valuable ones in the library.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:09 PM on September 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'd be curious to see which companies are stepping up to foot the bill here. This smells like a boondoggle.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:10 PM on September 4, 2009


that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

I'm curious. How much cappuccino can this machine make at once, and how many hours of oral sex does each cup of cappuccino give you?

We better be talking positive integers for $12K.
posted by eriko at 4:10 PM on September 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Get off my library.
posted by netbros at 4:11 PM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.

Except that plenty of people go to a library just to do research.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:11 PM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


What we lose in books, we make up for in payouts from Amazon and other e-book salers. And cappucinos.

(Also since when is it kosher to sell caffeinated beverages to underaged kids?)
posted by shownomercy at 4:12 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I got oral sex from a negative integer once. It wasn't pleasant, let me tell you.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:12 PM on September 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


...and moments later i found a more comprehensive post on all this over at librarian.net. ps, more links.
posted by tamarack at 4:12 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


If we were talking about a university or municipal library, a place that had rare or out-of-print books, we'd be talking about a different beast. But we're not; do any of you remember what a bastion of cosmopolitan literacy your high school library was?

I do, and it sucked. A computer with a net connection and access to the Gutenberg Project is vastly better equipped than any prep school in the world.
posted by mhoye at 4:13 PM on September 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


only 48 books had been checked out,

Note the boldfaced part.

That's going away.
posted by Malor at 4:14 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I haven't been inside a library in 10 years.
posted by empath at 4:15 PM on September 4, 2009


Yeah. I got oral sex from a negative integer once. It wasn't pleasant, let me tell you.

You could say it ....

Nope, can't do it, too obvious. One (1) Internets to the person who comes up with the best word to follow that.
posted by eriko at 4:17 PM on September 4, 2009


tamarack: Thanks for the link to jessamyn's post, which was, as usual, all kinds of super-awesome informative.
posted by blucevalo at 4:19 PM on September 4, 2009


I've been going to my city library this past month and I've found many of their books to be rather ratty, to the extent that I feel I've got to isolate them from my own books to prevent contamination.

Granted, this is a budget problem not an institutional one, but I wouldn't mind seeing a print-on-demand (with recycling!) service. Cafe Press-style fullfillment may be prohibitively expensive now but it may be doable in the future, or ebooks will actually evolve from the overgrown etch-a-sketches they are now.

There really is an overlap between amazon marketplace, the Big Book Store, and public libraries, and the library is on the losing end of this. While walking the stacks can be serendipitous, amazon's community ratings, search, and preview capability makes for a more compelling product.
posted by Palamedes at 4:21 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hi! The greatest thing about this story as I've been watching people flip out about it all day is that the college I went to, Hampshire, apparently tried some shit like this when they opened up. I don't really know how it went, though, because by the time I went there the place was full of books, oozing books. In fact it's because I went to Hampshire that I decided to become a librarian. Yay books.

That said, it's clear how the Boston Globe feels about this issue. It's also clear how James Tracy feels [and if we could minimize the "fuck this guy" talk it might lead to a better discussion that wasn't just focused on how to leave a flaming bag of dog poop on his porch] and how the library director feels. I subscribed to her Twitter feed but there's nothing really there about this, not much there at all really. My main talking/thinking points about this right now are

- We all talk about how the library of the future won't have any books (well a lot of people say this, or how books will be more of a curiosity and less the tools they are for many of us today) but no one's got a plan for how we get there. I think part of the "how we get there" plan is going to have to include cheap, easy to access ebooks and we're definitely not there yet. Right now going bookless just means you've decided to give big money away, for good, to ebook publishers and be laden with stupid DRM that isn't even totally thought out yet. Bleh.
- This was not a decision made by the library and I think that's a recipe for FAIL. I could see a library having a thought out strategy for doing something like this over years. Thi sis not that plan.
- If Cushing's so all fired up about this, why is there NO mention of this on their library website or the school's website? If it's such a great idea why don't they put it front and center "The Bookless Academy?" I think the answer to that is because donors and parents aren't going to be as psyched as the kids who are a little more "born digital" in the first place, so it's a narrow path they have to walk here.

School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.

Very very curious about this. Which day? What's the average? What circulates and what doesn't? Hate to say it but ever since we've moved to online catalogs, this sort of circulation data has been hidden from patrons [the way you used to be able to look at a card and anyone, patron or librarian, would know how popular a book was] and I think that's nt only a mistake but also not something that's a necessary part of an online catalog. Show how popular the book is! Be transparent! Don't let people lie with statistics.

Also I don't give a fuck how much the cappucino machine costs, but you know it's just there to get people's blood boiling. Journal subscriptions for a year can cost that much, let's not start second guessing what things cost, let's look at value and what they're trying to accomplish. Is this going to get them there?Man, i doubt it.
posted by jessamyn at 4:22 PM on September 4, 2009 [22 favorites]


More from CNN. No mention of James Tracy but the same meme.

Super-duper technology and the wonders of a bookless future aside, I'm still not entirely sure I'm comfortable with a librarian or a Simmons College student saying that bibliophilia is a "strange emotional attachment," but that's just me -- an inveterate bookworm (and not a Luddite or a cranky old fussbudget, he says somewhat defensively).
posted by blucevalo at 4:25 PM on September 4, 2009


Um, 48 books checked out on a day, at an institution with how many students?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:26 PM on September 4, 2009


Also, back to the CNN thing (I hesitate to call it an article), the whole librarians-with-tattoos-oh-my! meme is also getting kind of old. Great, CNN has, as of September 2009, finally discovered that we don't sit around on our butts all day and rifle through dusty card catalogs and peer over our bifocals and shush people.
posted by blucevalo at 4:31 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Isn't this an exact rerun of the terrifying microfilm nazis in Nicholson Baker's book, Double Fold?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:43 PM on September 4, 2009


Two words: New Math.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:44 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem with this sort of framing, both in the initiative itself and in the Globe's reporting, is that it encourages a shallow either/or; old media/new media dichotomy. It has absolutely zero to do with training kids effectively. The goal ought to be to teach children how to evaluate critically the information they encounter regardless of its means of presentation. Well educated children should know how to smell bullshit in an argument written down in a book and they should know equally well how to evaluate whether an online source is reputable and trustworthy. Instead, it seems as if they're being taught that the big shiny is the future and is better than the old stinky. And the Globe implicitly suggests that the big shiny is silly and the old stinky is trustworthy, which scarcely helps matters.

James Tracy will get away with this for a while because there are plenty of corporate types who would like to see online and electronic media (access to which is inherently controllable from the top down) supersede print media (which are materially democratic). But in the long run, Tracy is punting down the field a generation of kids who will be totally unprepared to do good work at a college or university. My best hope is that higher-ed administrators remember this article and when the next Cushing Academy class comes up for college admissions, their admission numbers take a huge hit. At that point, James Tracy will learn about monster.com.

I mean seriously, what kind of moron believes that limiting access to the most popular information medium on the planet is a recipe for pedagogical excellence?
posted by felix betachat at 4:49 PM on September 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: Um, 48 books checked out on a day, at an institution with how many students?

450, so sayeth the Internet.
posted by mhum at 4:51 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


For all the people who think this is the worst thing ever, at what point should libraries start moving from primarily analog books to primarily digital books? How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?
posted by 23skidoo at 4:58 PM on September 4, 2009


What I really like is the idea of getting away from all these stupid revisions which force students to purchase books that have the exact same information in them that the book had in 1987, and charge them $74 for them. What a racket!

And yeah, I know, it's a high school, and not a college, but if this thing were to take off it'd be great, if only for that reason.

For that matter, keep the library and keep the books but quit forcing students to buy and buy and buy, at huge cost, books that are required, put textbooks on pdf and allow the instructors to add whatever updates are needed as they are needed.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:02 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.

1) I call BS on this. First of all, 48 books over what time period? And what part of the year?

2) If this is supposed to be indicative of a low interest in books, why are they wasting $500k on a paper-free remake?

(3) I have been known to zip my hand back and forth through the electronic eye at my library to drive up their patron count.)
posted by DU at 5:03 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

Uh... until digital books are anywhere near as cheap and universally easy to access and immune to future changes in proprietary format, etc, as analog ones? And then maybe add a couple more decades' safety margin to avoid repeating the mistakes that have been made throughout history by the over-hasty embrace of new technologies to the exclusion of the old.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:05 PM on September 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


at what point should libraries start moving from primarily analog books to primarily digital books? How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

It's a totally false dichotomy though. Most academic libraries have a huge infrastructure that supports electronic information in a bunch of different forms, journal publishing primarily. That said, we're still not at a point where we can point to information that we're used to receiving in "analog book" form [novels and the like] being available primarily in digital format. Add to this that the ownership structure for digital information isn't half as simple as it is for print materials -- right of first sale is totally absent in electronic books for one very important thing which is a huge deal in the US -- and we're still a long way from even being able to recreate our analog libraries in digital form right now, even if we had unlimited cash and wated to do it very badly.

I'm curious whether the philosophical decision to switch to digital materials is going to cause a shift in what is actually used as textbooks and as other educational materials. I wonder if Cushing will push to have the actual information they want made available digitally, or if they'll just play the same old consumer game "well what do I want that's available for me to purchase?" If it's the latter, you could argue that they're making a bad decision indeed. I wonder what percentage of the materials that were on student reading lists in 2008 are actually available digitally for the students in 2009. This is actually a massive shift in the role of the library in supporting education and I'm a little surprised more people aren't looking at that aspect of it.
posted by jessamyn at 5:07 PM on September 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


(I used to date -2(pi)i, and believe me, sex with the square root of a negative number is unreal. Sex with a negative integer, on the other hand, is just unnatural. Trying a menage a trois with both at once turned out to be kind of complex, though. Eventually, I had to break it off because of the constant irrationality.)
posted by kyrademon at 5:13 PM on September 4, 2009 [20 favorites]


23skidoo: Libraries already have been moving away from print to digital holdings for things like periodicals and databases.

The central problem that keeps me away from adopting ebooks is the DRM. I still have about 50% of my qualifying exam readings and 80% of my dissertation bibliography squirled away on a hard drive, carefully archived and transferred three computers and three different operating systems later. What keeps me away from the Kindle is the distinct possibility that if I should switch to a different reader or need to import that volume into another software package, I'd be SOL. Now Bezos claims that he's opening up the Amazon ebook trade to be more platform agnostic, I still want to see details.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:17 PM on September 4, 2009


Giving up the codex, for a laptop? = reverting to scrolling.
posted by woodway at 5:18 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can believe this. I work as an IT admin with a 1:1 laptop program and when walking around campus, all the students are a) on their laptop or b) reading a book assigned for class- this includes novels that are given to students (they don't need to check them out). The vast majority of check-outs do come from the elementary grades, though the idea of giving them Kindles isn't particularly appealing.

Anyways, I reckon part of the movement is to move to the students' level. Be a part of that world. Or at least that's why our school started a laptop program.
Love it or hate it, reality is today's students live in a virtual, electronic world. This includes how they research and read. It is our responsibility as educators to meet them there and offers ways they will enjoy and participate in, rather than forcing the old way down their throats because that's the way it has always been.
posted by jmd82 at 5:21 PM on September 4, 2009


Ugh, yes, the pricey cappuccino machine is an egregious addition to the usual (and also in evidence) stack of red herrings that show up whenever the e-books versus paper books discussion finds its way into the popular press ("press," hah hah). Someday I will get to read an article about this that does not feel the need to invoke someone waxing rhapsodic about their sentimental attachment to the physical properties of printed books. Yes, I love how paper smells too, now please shut up.

No mention of DRM, no discussion of how the licenses of shared e-books work in this context, no mention of formats and the fact that a student might not have access to a particular work depending on which flavor of reader they happen to get. Or the big one, in my mind, how much this restricts what is actually available to read, right here and now. This is surely a gimmick and a stunt (however those responsible might view their motivations) but that's a point that could have been made with a lot more force and insight.
posted by nanojath at 5:23 PM on September 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


It would be interesting to compare the school's library records of lending and usage with that of their local municipal library both before and after this switch. I can imagine that for a number of students will find it makes no difference to how they seek out information: those who used digital/electronic sources before will continue to do so afterwards, and those who used books will do likewise. The difference though may be where they do it, as the book-using students are displaced into the public library, and the digital-using students more excuse to do it at home (even if they don't have the same accesses there).

My university has been following the digital/book divide in the last few years, but more cautiously. The low-volume books and archive materials are all located in the main library that has a distinct lack of computers, while a new building houses multiple copies of high-volume texts between hundreds and hundreds of computers. Similarly, they've obtained digital publishing rights to distribute some book chapters electronically for undergraduates to use as seminar preparation. They're obviously feeling their way towards a future where (potentially) students either don't use books, or only use high-volume textbooks. I've not yet seen an ebook reader on campus, but I'll let you know if I do.
posted by Sova at 5:51 PM on September 4, 2009


If that $12,000 coffee maker will encourage just one student to read a book, it'll mean ... holy shit, this is a good latte ... where'd they get this blend ... just the right mix of bitter and floral notes ... mmm ... so, what was I saying again?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:56 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


$12K for a volume pressure coffee system is dirt cheap. My guess is it won't be reliable.
posted by bz at 6:01 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Magical Thinking For Idiots. "The future has no books -- so if get rid of my books, then I'm in the future!"

Successful new technologies (like books over scrolls) win out over existing technologies because they're effective, not because some dumbass decides he wants to realize his dumbass vision of the future irregardless of the lack of the necessary transcendent new technology. Of course cataclysm can trigger the future, too.

18 junk ass e readers doth not thee future make. Or the present for that matter.
posted by February28 at 6:04 PM on September 4, 2009 [15 favorites]


> at what point should libraries start moving from primarily analog books to primarily digital books?

I've never had the least problem with libraries keeping other kinds of media (wax cylinders, bakelite records, vinyl records, acetate films, open-reel tape, cassettes, CDs, VCR tapes, DVDs, software on floppies or HDs or flash drives or Sega Genesis cartridges or Playstation disks, however you want to store the bitstream) along with their normal books. But if you're asking this in an either-or sense--when should they start dumping paper books and only store and circulate ebooks--there's a really obvious answer: when ebooks stop needing ebook readers is when.

The need for some kind of powered, technically complicated display device that requires chip factories and PCB factories and LCD factories and electricity (and hence implies an electrical grid and an underlying industrial civilization) is the--utterly--fatal flaw. I understand how people take technology (especially technology they don't understand) for granted. But as someone who has spent 30-odd years building and fixing techie things, please let me tell you just exactly how ephemeral they are. Keeping the whole system up and running is exactly like pumping up a city-sized balloon that has a big hole in the other side.

Egyptian heiroglyphs and Babylonian cuneiform tablets will be readable long after the last Kindle has gone dark and hit the landfill. When somebody figures out a way to make ebooks stand-alone so that, like regular books, they require nothing but eyeballs and a mind, that will be plenty of time to think about a switchover.
posted by jfuller at 6:08 PM on September 4, 2009 [15 favorites]


Why spend money on a coffee shop/cappuccino machine, are they modeling a "library" after a Starbucks/Borders bookstore without the books? On the other hand, they're probably going to require a lot of caffeine to keep those students awake in front of the flat-screen TVs, laptops, and digital e-book readers.
posted by plokent at 6:21 PM on September 4, 2009


I've assigned scanned book chapters, and it's like building my own anthology instead of relying on Norton's canonical selection. It's cheaper for students than buying multiple books, and the electronic course reserves mean that the material is readily accessible. So far, though, students print out the reading and dutifully bring it to class without me asking them to do so, which I've found interesting. We've had great discussions when I bring my laptop and use the data projector, but students who bring laptops are tempted to jump on Facebook or Twitter -- essentially carrying on their own conversation while I'm trying to talk. That's not helping their education but distracting them from it.
posted by woodway at 6:24 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This can be interpreted in two ways: "School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books." 48 books had been checked out, could mean, checked out that day - in other words at 200 days open per year, about 10,000 books checked out. With 450 students, that would be 22 per student. Just trying to look at the positive side.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:26 PM on September 4, 2009


Oooh, and maybe those 48 books were checked out in the first hour of the school day! Maybe 384 books were checked out that day.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:48 PM on September 4, 2009


the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a learning center. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

How much do you think books cost? They're not free. I would imagine they'll turn a profit on their coffee machine.
posted by delmoi at 6:49 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


What I really like is the idea of getting away from all these stupid revisions which force students to purchase books that have the exact same information in them that the book had in 1987, and charge them $74 for them. What a racket!

Dancestoblue, I guarantee you that every textbook publisher on the planet is salivating at the thought of ebook-only schools. Why? Because it means the death of the used textbook. When you can DRM away the right of first sale doctrine, you can compel each new wave of students to pay full retail price for that 1987-era textbook without even the pretense of revisions.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:02 PM on September 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


School librarian here (at an independent day school about 80 students larger than Cushing Academy.) Our kids have significant access to a major city library system (the vast majority of our kids use the Hennepin County system, which now includes the Minneapolis branches).

We started school on Tuesday. Since then, I've checked out at least 14 books for personal reading. (Some YA, some classics, some genre, a few non-fiction.) Most weeks, our personal reading circ numbers are lower, but we still manage a good few hundred over the year. Even though our kids have lots of other resources available to them.

The thing that disturbs me almost more than the lack of books (though that disturbs me a lot) is the comment about removing the reference desk. If you want students to be actively engaged in learning, you need people available to help with questions. That means spaces for them to be based, and some other resources that might help. (Unless you're doing everything purely electronically, no paper at all, that is: scrap paper and instructions for some kinds of things are still very handy.)
posted by modernhypatia at 7:02 PM on September 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


I don't know if the future is book free or not. I'd rather buy a book then get some DRM laden garbage on a kindle that stops working when Amazon decides they need to pull it back for some reason (which they say they won't do in the future, but who knows). Libraries are now trying to do e-books, but obviously that's going to entail a lot of DRM. I would hate to see something like that succeed, but who knows.

I wonder how book piracy will ever end up figuring into all of this. The fact is you actually can find a pirated books online in DjVu format. A $75 (today) 1Tb hard drive could contain hundreds of thousands of scanned books, or millions of books in plaintext/marked up format.
posted by delmoi at 7:10 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


48 books checked out on a day, at an institution with how many students?

450, so sayeth the Internet.


Ao on a day that was likely cherry-picked for its low numbers to fit their agenda, one in ten students had checked out a book. That doesn't seem earth-shatteringly low to me. One great thing about having a "warehouse full of books" (sounds great to me!) is that you don't have to leave with them to draw information from them.

If these 18 e-readers aren't going to take up any space, why can't they exist by the coffee bar, side-by-side with books while this thing gets a rational look?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:24 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


*So*. I was just having an interesting discussion about typing when I totally did that.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:25 PM on September 4, 2009


at what point should libraries start moving from primarily analog books to primarily digital books? How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

What delmoi said. That is, we should hold on to physical books as long as Amazon or B&N etc. can yank that electronic copy that you bought and "own." You know what happens to already sold physical copies of a book that a publisher decides to pulp (say, because the author plagiarized, lied, etc.)? Nothing. People and libraries can keep them. The Publishing Police do not break into your house and take your books away, because the books belong to you, not the publisher. Which is not how it seems to be working out with the electronic versions.
posted by rtha at 7:32 PM on September 4, 2009


on a day that was likely cherry-picked for its low numbers to fit their agenda, one in ten students had checked out a book. That doesn't seem earth-shatteringly low to me.

The sentence was "School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books." The sentence is ambiguous. It could either mean that 48 books were checked out in one day, or 48 books had been checked out for the entire year when officials decided to check, one day last spring.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:33 PM on September 4, 2009


How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

When you don't have to worry about your batteries running out.
posted by edgeways at 7:52 PM on September 4, 2009


Someday I will get to read an article about this that does not feel the need to invoke someone waxing rhapsodic about their sentimental attachment to the physical properties of printed books. Yes, I love how paper smells too, now please shut up.

Shan't.

You're suggesting it's not a valid issue, the physicality of books, or even mere sentiment for that matter. Depends on your priorities. Ebooks no doubt will be cost effective and all that. So what? Half the point of the library is to gaze on the wracks and stacks and be amazed. To put everything on a chip - one fiction, one non-fiction (Futurama, was it?) just turns the place into a room, no longer a refuge.

Not the kind of argument that will impress the forward seekers, I suppose, but there it is. Their imaginations are not my imagination. As to sentiment- I wonder if they have any.

(Incidentally, I wonder what this will do for Cushing's future applications. Certainly wouldn't be the first choice for my child.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:55 PM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

As long as there are straw men that can demolished and red herrings that can be placed on sharp pointy fishhooks.
posted by blucevalo at 7:55 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s

Listen Boston Globe, you may do a fine job of getting me all angry about some private school emptying out a library for some craaazy new business, but books have been around since before Gutenberg. Yes, moveable type is insanely important, and most people had no idea what a book looked like before the printing press allowed books to be reproduced in such a rapid fashion and large scale, but come on guys. Come on.
posted by clockbound at 8:03 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


To add to the data points above, mMy wife is a librarian at a middle school (grades 4, 5, and 6). In the first two days of school, she's checked out 75 books.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:05 PM on September 4, 2009


I've probably checked out 100 books in the last 6 months from my lovely public library system (you'd be amazed how much time you have for reading when you're breastfeeding all day). I love books, libraries and librarians. Reading stuff on a screen eventually makes my eyes hurt, and it's super slow.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is boo Cushing, and yay all things traditionally library. Oh, and ebooks will never be for me.
posted by Go Banana at 8:23 PM on September 4, 2009


At the risk of sound like a broken record:

FUCK THE KIN.... /snip

Oh what 's the use anyway...........blah blah etc....

*Weeps. Puts away violently burned, stabbed, decapitated, shredded Glenn Beck Voodoo doll. Takes out Jeff Bezos Voodoo doll, douses with lighter fluid. Blows nose. Reads next chapter of of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Smells the pages. Lights Jeff Bezos voo doo doll with a Zippo. Contemplates the pretty fire.*
posted by Skygazer at 8:45 PM on September 4, 2009


> For all the people who think this is the worst thing ever, at what point should libraries start moving from primarily analog books to primarily digital books? How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

If you're looking at this budget-wise, we've been heavily digital for a long time. At least for university libraries. Database subcriptions are expensive. Of course, if your really want to blow some money in a(n Academic) library (in Canada), buy a video.
posted by Decimask at 9:18 PM on September 4, 2009


How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

I publish art books, and we're being presented with the challenge at work to develop an ebook publishing model. The challenge with abandoning the physical object for art book publishing is exceedingly complex because the very nature of illustrated books means that it's not just a matter of converting text on the page to text on a screen (the way you do with, say, a novel).

First, hi-res, publication-quality digital images -- the kind used in illustrated book publishing -- require an enormous amount of space. I just published a book in which we had more than 600 images, clocking in (if I may mix my metaphor) at hundreds of gigabites total. The typeset text -- all 460 pages of it -- counted for more gigabytes still. (If my designer was in town, I could get the final tally from him.) When the entire book was designed, the files were so large that I couldn't actually accommodate the book in its entirety on my home computer... yet to be a successful ebook version, it would have to download instantly onto an iPhone or home computer without any reduction in image quality or layout.

Which brings us to the fact of actual art book design, in which images are integrated carefully into the surrounding text (and are referenced and cross-referenced within the text). Additionally, pages are designed not as single pages, but as 2-page spreads, which means (for example) that some images are spread across two pages, or that groups of images across two pages are intended to be viewed together as a unit. There is also the careful placement of smaller elements and hierarchies of information, such as picture captions and footnotes.

Each basic ebook environment that currently exists (e.g., Kindle and related devices; iPhone and related devices; online readers for home computers) is able to accommodate some of these demands (iPhone can do color, while Kindle cannot, etc.), while being completely incapable of accommodating other demands (the iPhone is too small to preserve the book layout format and still make the page readable; ebook readers for personal computers require different combinations of software/memory/available space to be able to mimic the "experience" of paging through an illustrated book that not all consumers will have access to, etc.).

(And this all leaves aside the existence of the art book as object itself -- many art books are carefully designed with layouts, typefaces, binding, paper, boards, fabric, foils, cutouts, etc. in order to create a physical, material object that cannot fully be reproduced digitally.)

So to go back to your original straw man: It is not that any of these types of ebooks suck; on the contrary, I think much of this technology is both useful and exciting, and perfectly appropriate for certain types of text and perfectly appealing for certain types of consumers.

No ebook, however, appropriate for ALL types of text for ALL consumers. The fact is, for the type of publishing I do, printed and bound paper is actually still the most effective way to produce and disseminate high-quality art books, as drearily old media as that might sound.
posted by scody at 9:33 PM on September 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


Yeah. I got oral sex from a negative integer once. It wasn't pleasant, let me tell you.

You know what helps? While that negative integer's going down on you, just fantasize about taking her square root.
posted by Netzapper at 9:37 PM on September 4, 2009


And the collapse of Western Civilization continues apace.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:39 PM on September 4, 2009


"Magical thinking" has become one of those phrases I wish would disappear from MeFi.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:43 PM on September 4, 2009


"Magical thinking" has become one of those phrases I wish would disappear from MeFi.

You'll have to wish really, really hard. Also, rubbing a rabbit's foot couldn't hurt.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:14 PM on September 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


The thing that disturbs me almost more than the lack of books (though that disturbs me a lot) is the comment about removing the reference desk. If you want students to be actively engaged in learning, you need people available to help with questions.

Yes certainly. The last several times I went to a reference desk, it had nothing to do with looking at text in a paper artifact, it was about finding the right specialized database to find what I was looking for. (And while google is great when any old page will do, it doesn't fully replace the need for specialized databases.)

And of course, research libraries also collect and archive materials from economies that don't have ubiquitous computing, but do have a printing press.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:17 PM on September 4, 2009


Tech support for those book-based libraries can be pretty tough, though.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 10:32 PM on September 4, 2009


"'This isn't Fahrenheit 451,' Tracy said, referring to the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned. 'We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.'" -- Boston Globe, 4 September 2009

"It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed." -- Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
posted by blucevalo at 10:35 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and to go back to the usefulness of ebooks:

Frankly, they're only fully useful if and when they are made by people who actually understand the function and importance of all the different sections of a printed book, and how they relate to each other in terms of content. This, however, is by no means a given.

For example, one of my coworkers just downloaded the Kindle edition of Sebastian Junger's nonfiction book, A Death in Belmont. Without giving too much away, the book deals with the author's discovery of a photograph of himself as a small child -- a photograph in which Albert DeSalvo also appears. DeSalvo was working as a handyman at the time; he later confessed to being the Boston Strangler (though whether he really was the Strangler or not is a matter of debate). What's more, the photo was taken on the same day as one of the murders -- thus raising significant questions about the logistics of DeSalvo actually committing the murder itself.

Sounds fascinating, right? What's more, sounds like the photo under discussion is really pretty important to the book. In fact, it's crucial -- it is literally the thing that sets the story in motion. You'd think it would need to be reproduced pretty prominently, ideally in an easy-to-find place, right?

Well, sort of. It IS reproduced prominently and is easy to find -- in the print version. As my friend found out, however, it is not reproduced prominently in the Kindle version. Whereas it's prominently reproduced in the print edition, in the ebook it's buried many hundred "pages" in (though they're not really pages, are they?), long after the picture has been discussed repeatedly.

Thus the print version presented a reading experience as the book's author actually intended it. The ebook version -- who knows why? -- doesn't. And yeah, that kind of sucks.
posted by scody at 10:56 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Um. Guys, this is a HIGH SCHOOL. I don't know about your high school, but mine had a spacious library with perhaps 5000 books, mostly donated World Books and ancient computer manuals. The rest of the space was taken up by an ad-hoc computer lab, tables for studying, and a lot of ads exhorting students to join the Army. Granted there was no espresso machine, but books were never the school library's main business.
posted by miyabo at 11:00 PM on September 4, 2009


Um. Speak for yourself. My high school had a pretty solid library.
posted by scody at 11:09 PM on September 4, 2009


I publish art books, and we're being presented with the challenge at work to develop an ebook publishing model.

I don't think I would try doing that by somehow translating a carefully designed printed art book into ebook form. I'd focus on figuring out what ebooks can do well, aesthetically, and do that. But I don't think ebooks are really going to take much of a bite of that market. Sometimes you just want a pretty fetish object for your coffee table. Can't do that with a kindle, no matter how well it's done.
posted by empath at 11:20 PM on September 4, 2009


While I do think ebooks are the future (I like the concept primarily for the reason that they don't take up any inventory space whatsoever) we need to get past the whole DRM thing. Something like the MP3 needs to take hold. Digital music would have never developed if the original proposed DRM-choked models been the only choice. They would have been rejected by consumers and without the MP3 stealing the record company's lunch, nothing better would have ever been proposed. They would have been happy to sell CDs forever.

I simply refuse to buy into any ebook scheme where:
A. The publisher can pull my access later. That's just plain ridiculous.
B. I have to worry about the reader / format / etc. going obsolete. My MP3s are good forever. Your ebooks better be good forever - including if you go out of business completely and without warning or the author/publisher/whatever tells you to sod off.
C. I can't back things up freely. I've rescued my older MP3s, ripped in the late 90s, from backup on two occasions. If I can't do that with your books, they're worthless to me.
D. Files aren't compatible between devices. I'm not buying into your ebook scheme unless I can use a competing reader. Your next revision of reader might be trash, or you might leave the market entirely. It needs to work on anything developed into the future. Come to think of it, that means you probably need to use an open format. I know that this kind of planning for the future isn't what companies expect from consumers, but I'm on my third MP3 player now - if I'd bound my files to my first or second player, I'd be hosed. Or even the first or second manufacturer.

Yeah, nobody will ever follow these rules. What's the solution? Honestly? I think piracy. It worked for music - most sellers are offering less and less DRM and are becoming better and better. Until widespread piracy takes hold, I don't think ebooks are going to get anywhere. Publishers will be unwilling to take risks until they either have to or fail, same as the music industry.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:36 PM on September 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'd focus on figuring out what ebooks can do well, aesthetically, and do that.

Sure, but then those aren't conventional exhibition catalogues. But what we're expected to produce, what curators expect to write, and what artists, lenders, and donors to major exhibitions expect museums to have at openings are... conventional exhibition catalogues.

Now, that's not to say we don't also produce books that aren't better suited for an ebook format -- anthologies of critical writings, for example, with minimal illustrations. But again, that's not primarily what art museums and art book publishers publish.

But I don't think ebooks are really going to take much of a bite of that market.

I totally agree with you. The people who sign my paycheck, however, are convinced otherwise. They want complete exhibition catalogues, for free, on iPhones, in the next four months. The fact that this is a technological impossibility is of no interest to them.
posted by scody at 11:36 PM on September 4, 2009


Fuck this guy.
posted by GavinR at 11:56 PM on September 4, 2009


An iphone app for a museum exhibition sounds like a really fun project. Trying to fit a traditional catalogue into an iphone ebook reader does not sound like fun.
posted by empath at 12:01 AM on September 5, 2009


Sorry about the ranting above, but it really bothers me that ebooks haven't taken over already. There's no legitimate technological reason why you can't go online right now and check out, from a national library, pretty much any book ever written. You should then be able to download it to your ebook-reader, your cell phone, and MP3 player for easy reading wherever you want. And, you should have been able to do this for over a decade now. The only reason you can't do this is because the copyright holders have been dragging their feet and impeding innovation for ages, and they're prepared to hold on for as long as they can.

Honestly we should have consumer rights laws to prevent this sort of thing. Copyright law was invented to help protect innovation, but it seems to have evolved into something that prevents it. Hopefully a solution can be found that will allow this technology to eventually function, but I really doubt it. The natural time for the development of this technology was almost 15-20 years ago, and it hasn't yet.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:02 AM on September 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


All these e-book readers are going to be as quaint as the Apple Newton in 5 years. They're not books. They're media devices that will turn towards what media devices do best and that is play video and music.

And a book, a printed book is the perfect device. A front cover, a back cover, easily accessible content in the middle on numbered pages. Immediate access to any part in mere seconds. you can underline and annotate easily so on and so forth. It is an almost perfect user interface and usability experience.

The perfect ebook reader will eventually be an actual book, with paper pages that are capable of reconfiguring text and illustrations instantly, and remain fixed that way until one decides to change it, and will have enough memory to hold every book in ones collection and do it justice....by being a real book.

Until that time, I'm going to buy as many real books as I can. Doubles and triples even and give them out to people with e-books so they see how much more superior a real paper and ink book is to plastic shite. Ebook users who a. aren't students needing to pack tons of textbooks or b. old or disabled people who have an easier time holding a kindle thank a book, should be jeered and called names and humiliated with extreme prejudice.

You know what else is great about a real book. You drop books from 10 or 20 stories or the side of a mountain. Chances are it might be damaged a bit, but you'll still be able to read it. Try that with a Shmindle kindle.
posted by Skygazer at 12:08 AM on September 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


An iphone app for a museum exhibition sounds like a really fun project. Trying to fit a traditional catalogue into an iphone ebook reader does not sound like fun.

Agreed. (They're trying to do the app for exhibitions, too. Early reports indicate that this is seen as a way of removing all printed text -- i.e., labels, explanatory panels, etc. -- from the walls of the exhibition itself. When it was pointed out that this would mean that any visitor without an iphone would therefore be unable to find out, say, the title of the painting they might be looking at, the response was, "well, we can rent them iphones on top of the admission fee!" Sigh.)
posted by scody at 12:10 AM on September 5, 2009


Sorry about the ranting above, but it really bothers me that ebooks haven't taken over already. There's no legitimate technological reason why you can't go online right now and check out, from a national library, pretty much any book ever written. You should then be able to download it to your ebook-reader, your cell phone, and MP3 player for easy squinty reading wherever you want the lighting makes it feasible. And, you should have been able to do this for over a decade now. The only reason you can't do this is because the copyright holders have been dragging their feet and impeding innovation piracy for ages, and they're prepared to hold on for as long as they can.

There are a lot of applications where an e-book is a great idea. Certainly I don't see a lot of people dragging their entire personal library of paper books around with them. E-books are portable, at least most of the way too as readable as paper (with no illustrations), great for reference books, lookups, and someday cookbooks (when they make them waterproof, even better — Why aren't cookbooks printed on plastic yet?)
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:51 AM on September 5, 2009


I don't think art E-Books would make much sense before people come out with color EBook readers. I wouldn't want to read an art book on a Kindle. They won't work very well on PCs because people are afraid of copyright infringement.

But anyway, like I said all of this is kind of moot. In a eventually people will be able to download entire libraries full of ebooks or scans off the Pirate Bay.
posted by delmoi at 12:58 AM on September 5, 2009


BrotherCaine: I'm not squinting right now.
posted by delmoi at 1:07 AM on September 5, 2009


All these e-book readers are going to be as quaint as the Apple Newton in 5 years. They're not books. They're media devices that will turn towards what media devices do best and that is play video and music.

Have you looked at devices like the Kindle or eReader at a technical level? They're quite specialized for their task.

The display is not an LCD. It's eInk. They're designed for very slow refresh (an LCD does 60fps, eInk does ~1fps), very high contrast (true black on near-true white), low power draw (power is spent only on changing the display, not on maintaining it), no backlight, full-sun viewable.

You can't do a book reader on an LCD: the low contrast strains the eyes, but more importantly the battery life on anything driving a display all the time is abysmal. And you can't watch a video on eInk: it's black and white, and the refresh rate leaves more than a little to be desired.

And a book, a printed book is the perfect device. A front cover, a back cover, easily accessible content in the middle on numbered pages. Immediate access to any part in mere seconds. you can underline and annotate easily so on and so forth. It is an almost perfect user interface and usability experience.

No, they're not perfect. I like books enough to have a house full of them, toppling towers of them in the corner, bookshelves stacked two and three volumes deep, but they aren't perfect.

1) They're heavy and bulky and require physical shipping. Given sufficient idle time, I read a novel a day. On vacation, I often bring half a dozen novels. If I'm doing work with multiple references, I have to lug them all along. Working on research at the coffee shop requires that I drag an entire backpack worth of books along with me, take up a larger table than one dude normally needs, and annoy my back in the process.

While all that's annoying, what drives me crazy is when it's midnight, and I finish a book with a sequel that's already been written. And then, at midnight, I'm left with this ridiculous itch that I can't scratch until the next morning when I can go back to the bookstore. I've actually bought and read PDF versions of books simply because I wasn't sleepy yet and I wanted to read more Terry Pratchett right now. I read them on my computer. It sucked, but it was a fix.

2) There is no search. Yes, there's an index. But the index is based around what the author and the editor and the staff thought were important concepts. They're often lacking what I think are important terms. And there's never an index in a work of fiction. If I remember a snatchet of a phrase from a novel, it's a sonofabitch to find the actual page it was on and find the rest of the quote--especially if it was just a throwaway joke or something.

The only thing that comes close to search is the concordance in a study bible... and that's an atypical feature for a regular book.

I'm not debating that books are quite nice. But they can certainly be improved upon.
posted by Netzapper at 1:30 AM on September 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


How long should we hold on to the notion that physical books are the best, and that anything else sucks?

The point at which we can be confident digital books might, say, last more than a decade, never mind the hundreds of years books (and millenia, in the case of scrolls) last? The point at which someone can't reach into my home and remotely destroy books I've paid for? The point at which I can guarantee the same right I currently have to loan or gift the books I paid for to others?
posted by rodgerd at 2:15 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um. Guys, this is a HIGH SCHOOL. I don't know about your high school, but mine had a spacious library with perhaps 5000 books, mostly donated World Books and ancient computer manuals.

Perhaps you should have gone to a better high school. The one I went to (which was a regular ol' public school) had an excellent range of fiction and non-fiction, and a collection larger than a pair of literate adults might assemble by middle age.
posted by rodgerd at 2:19 AM on September 5, 2009


Oooh, and maybe those 48 books were checked out in the first hour of the school day! Maybe 384 books were checked out that day.

Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were interested in a discussion, not being a raging cok.
posted by rodgerd at 2:22 AM on September 5, 2009


I love the press release from the Cushing website:

Terminals we call 'Portals of Civilization' will give ready access to everything humans have achieved, from every civilization, across an ever-expanding universe of culture. Space that previously housed bound books will become community-building areas where students and teachers are encouraged to interact, with a coffee shop, faculty lounge, shared teacher and students learning environments, and areas for study.

Portals of Civilization! It could be a passage from one of those hopeful 1960s books about The World in the Twenty-First Century, with brightly coloured illustrations of flying robot cars and giant cordless telephones.

Meanwhile, since we seem to be having a conversation about e-books, let me recommend Nicholson Baker's essay on Kindle and the future of reading, which to my surprise never got posted as a MetaFilter FPP.
posted by verstegan at 3:47 AM on September 5, 2009


And a book, a printed book is the perfect device.
Not until there's full-text search it isn't. (Though I say this as a book lover).

Also: industrial espresso machines aren't cheap. That's not wildly unreasonable price-wise. Though I have mixed emotions about the sort of high school that needs one.
posted by fightorflight at 4:09 AM on September 5, 2009


Nanojath: Someday I will get to read an article about this that does not feel the need to invoke someone waxing rhapsodic about their sentimental attachment to the physical properties of printed books. Yes, I love how paper smells too, now please shut up.

The physical properties of books are important - it isn't a purely aesthetic sentiment about the qualities of candlelight against the harsh, unforgiving icandescent bulb. The way we interact with books affects the way we absorb and remember the information therein. The different qualities of different books help us remember and learn. In remembering the content of a book we remember the experience of reading it, how the book felt, its weight, its age, the quality of its paper. These are mnemonic devices and assist the process of learning. Ebook readers make the experience more uniform, and less memorable.

Netzapper: I'm not debating that books are quite nice. But they can certainly be improved upon.

Well, perhaps ... but why? I'm reminded of those incredible recliners you can get - with the vibrating seat, the mini-fridge and cupholder built into the armrest and the speakers in the headrest. It's the armchair, but improved upon! There's a line from, I think, Yes, Minister: "They can improve things all they like, they never get any better."
posted by WPW at 5:54 AM on September 5, 2009


The thing I wonder about is to what degree does the library's status impact the school's accreditation. I know my library has to maintain a certain volume of materials on several subjects in order for the college to be accredited in said subjects.

The rules are probably different for high school, but I'm not sure just pointing to a pile of Kindles will cut it. You can build a decent ebook collection, sure, but if Amazon finally decides to take a stance on the loaning of Kindles, you may find that you've been TOS'd out of access to your library and uh-oh, here comes the Accreditation Man!

And speaking from the viewpoint of a librarian who loans Kindles, cataloging Kindle eBooks is a bit of a pain. But that might just be because Innovative blows.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:56 AM on September 5, 2009


If you've ever seen a good cappuccino machine, you'd know why it costs $12,000. If it can bust-out perfect cappuccinos all day and keep the reading-folk happy, it's a small price to pay. Hell, a car costs that much, and think of all the evil cars bring to this world, right? But a good cappuccino? 1. Doesn't hurt anybody; 2. Stimulates brain activity (true); 3. Doesn't destroy the environment; etc.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:03 AM on September 5, 2009


I publish art books, and we're being presented with the challenge at work to develop an ebook publishing model. The challenge with abandoning the physical object for art book publishing is exceedingly complex because the very nature of illustrated books means that it's not just a matter of converting text on the page to text on a screen (the way you do with, say, a novel).

Right, and some of the books checked out at this high school library were children's books, which are often illustrated. Why a teenager checking out a "children's book" (meaning, what? Picture books? Middle grade chapter books? YA novels?) wouldn't count sort-of confounds me, anyway.

As does their reasoning for installing a frappacino machine. I hung out with a group of kids in high school who dabbled with drugs and alcohol--and I think I knew two people who drank coffee. Hardly anyone did. That sounds to me like it's something meant to benefit the faculty and staff, not the students.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:07 AM on September 5, 2009


Most stuff isn't digitized. Students should have access to most things.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:21 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's no legitimate technological reason why you can't go online right now and check out, from a national library, pretty much any book ever written.

I sometimes wonder of a lot of the waffling and nonsense surrounding the poozly state of ebooks doesn't have to do with the fact that, at least in the US, we really don't have a national library and certainly no national-level library policies that have any sort of binding force whatsoever. Public libraries in the US are a huge market force, they buy a ton of books at retail-type pricing, I often feel that if they'd just get together and find a way to say "Find us a way to provide content digitally to our patrons that retains the things that are good about books and doesn't wrap us up in a lot of shitty DRM that we can't explain to our patrons or no more money." something would happen. This has not, so far, been the case with downloadable audiobooks however, so maybe I'm just totally wrong about that.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see e-books and real phsyical books existing together for a very long time. E-books for their searchability and compactness, real books for their timeless near-perfect 'interface'. Put your schlock and educational materials on ebooks, and keep as real books those that you cherish and want to be able to access regardless of the level of technology around you. If civilization should collapse someday, e-books will disappear pretty quickly, but real books would survive, just as they always have.
posted by jamstigator at 8:45 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine: Why aren't cookbooks printed on plastic yet?

Because paper is more nutritious, and it tastes better.

Reading needs a mixed diet. It's a great thing for a student to sit down and do a Journal Database boolean search and be presented with x number of article citations and abstracts with very narrowed keyword parameters, there's no doubt about that, but it needs to be balanced with books. real authoritative books on shelf that contain the main core of a subject area and allow a more rounded and broad presentation of knowledge.

Also, books right now are kissing cousins to literature, those extraordinary secular devices that connect knowledge to a sense of truth and enlightenment and release from the ignorance and oppression of the dark ages. I fear that digitizing all books and making them exclusively available on ebook readers erases that important literary heritage and brings books closer to being simple, cold, soul less clinical information. With that heritage of learning and humanism lost from the medium of reading. With all words equivalent to all other words, tiny soldiers of the information age, a tyranny of bludgeoning numbing information.
posted by Skygazer at 9:39 AM on September 5, 2009


I think I knew two people who drank coffee. Hardly anyone did.

I take it you haven't been in a Starbucks when the nearby high school lets out. At least half the people in line are under 17.

Still, I don't know why resources should be spent on an expensive espresso machine rather than on books, or more ereaders, or decent technical support for the library (because they're going to need it.)
posted by rtha at 9:54 AM on September 5, 2009


How about the day the power goes out? How about kinesthetic learners? This is an uber bad idea.
posted by debbie_ann at 9:56 AM on September 5, 2009


I sometimes wonder of a lot of the waffling and nonsense surrounding the poozly state of ebooks doesn't have to do with the fact that, at least in the US, we really don't have a national library

Whoa, really? Does Obama know? That seems like something worth socializing the fuck out of on a fully voluntary opt-in basis.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:13 AM on September 5, 2009


On the subject of art books for e-readers: The key, I think, is the adoption of the Kindle as an artistic medium in itself; the first e-artbooks would need to be made specifically as such.

Warhol would have been all over that shit. Hell, Amazon would have been all over Warhol for that shit, and he would have merrily accepted payment in the form of a series of installments in the form of giant lottery-style checks.

Alas, dead. Maybe they could get that Etch-A-Sketch guy? They'd probably save a bundle.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:23 AM on September 5, 2009


I just moved and couldn't take my books with me because they weigh too much. Now they sit in storage and maybe some day I'll liberate them along with that old air conditioner. Until then, I'll have to get used to reading Metafilter. I really fucking miss my books.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:24 AM on September 5, 2009


I'm currently a high school student, and last year I checked out maybe 10 or 12 books. My school has a big library, but most people don't go there to check out books, it's normally used as a study area.

That said, a lot of the librarians are also there to help with online resource in the computer lab.

Most highschoolers I know don't use our library very much to check out books. If they want to do research they'll go to the larger public library.
posted by kylej at 10:25 AM on September 5, 2009


I sometimes wonder of a lot of the waffling and nonsense surrounding the poozly state of ebooks doesn't have to do with the fact that, at least in the US, we really don't have a national library

What powers do other national libraries have that, say, the Library of Congress does not? Genuine curiosity, I really have no idea. I thought they were all more or less just repositories of written work.

One more reason the ebook hasn't taken off as much as some here would like is because - and this thread can substantiate it - a whole bunch of people simply don't want it. Too expensive, too uncertain, too unnecessary. You have to be a book junky before the economics make sense, and in the US at least, the number of bookbuyers who purchase more than a handful each year is just too small. (Sidenote - how warm and cuddly is the gift download of a Father's Day book? Not so much.)

Note that the first adopters here is a school (and cf also the state of California)- a powerful institutions for a captive audience of obligatory book consumers, many of whom will rarely if ever crack another book for the rest of their lives.

(Any response from Cushing alumni on what the HM is doing? I can imagine lots of impassioned letters in whatever their alumni journal is.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:52 AM on September 5, 2009


Egyptian heiroglyphs and Babylonian cuneiform tablets will be readable long after the last Kindle has gone dark and hit the landfill.

The Egyptians and Babylonians were fools. They paid the upfront costs of assembling and publishing content, and future generations of freeloaders road their coattails.

If some not yet born layabout wants our content, there should be a cost! Make them earn it. The further down the timeline they are, the more they should pay. Our grandkids should get a discount because we will know them, and they come to visit on Thanksgiving. But our 20th generation descendants should get no such discount.

A proprietary, encrypted DRM system will provide just this. It becomes more difficult to understand as today's knowledge about it is los; (that knowledge should of course only be published in eBook form.

Our future generations will thank us for this lesson in hard work and reward.
posted by zippy at 11:37 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


What powers do other national libraries have that, say, the Library of Congress does not? Genuine curiosity, I really have no idea. I thought they were all more or less just repositories of written work.

Well, LOC is primarily there to serve Congress, whereas National Libraries are there to serve the nation as a whole. Some national libraries (e.g. in New Zealand, Australia) have a goal of collecting everything published in or related to that country*. Others, like LOC, require publishers to deposit books with them, but don't necessarily keep all of them. (See here).

I'm not sure if there are any real differences in the powers, though. I'm sure Jessamyn can give a better answer.

(*in the case of NZ, this means that they have copies of a Magnetic Fields album where one track was co-written by a New Zealander. Really).
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:43 AM on September 5, 2009


>The thing that disturbs me almost more than the lack of books...is the comment about removing the reference desk.

truly. i haven't yet read all the adjoining links and articles out there, but if anyone knows more i am stuck on this image of the cappuccino machine plastered with arrows and wearing a cardigan. there is still the old need of help me find out about X now coupled with the my technology is acting up helpdesk aspect. i would love to be a fly on their wall over the next year...
posted by tamarack at 12:00 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Egyptian heiroglyphs and Babylonian cuneiform tablets will be readable long after the last Kindle has gone dark and hit the landfill.

The Egyptians and Babylonians were fools. They paid the upfront costs of assembling and publishing content, and future generations of freeloaders road their coattails.
It's not like they published everything they wrote on rock. There has been tons and tons of material lost in ancient history due to impermanent writing mediums (leaves, in some case).
posted by delmoi at 1:04 PM on September 5, 2009


A real barista doesn't need a $12k machine to make a good drink.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:12 PM on September 5, 2009


We are doing a lot of weeding at the library system I work at and I also think we rely too much on circulation statistics for our weeding. They use circulation stats because that is the only statistic they have to measure with, which is kind backwards, I think.
posted by zzazazz at 1:13 PM on September 5, 2009


I also think we rely too much on circulation statistics for our weeding. They use circulation stats because that is the only statistic they have to measure with, which is kind backwards, I think.

That seems like a great way to fill a library with nothing but Danielle Steele and Stephen King (or whatever their 2009 equivalents are).

As much as I recognize the limitations of space, the very idea of 'weeding' squicks me right out. If a library is supposedly a repository, I'd prefer that books were indeed reposited there permanently, regardless of popularity. Ditch the duplicates, update the updatables, replace what needs replacing; those exceptions aside, I believe every librarian should strive to be the envy of pack rats the world over. At the very least, jettisoning a book should be done only when absolutely necessary, i.e. if every shelf in the building is stuffed tight and there's no room for more shelves and every other library and classroom everywhere is just as full.

In my experience, though, most libraries are nowhere near bursting.

Of course, that's just my opinion.

(And wrt high school libraries being unpopular: They're often only open during school hours, during which students have maybe an hour and a half to access them, and even that's only if they skip lunch. School libraries might be accessed more if they were more accessible. And also if there were some books in there worth reading.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:55 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The key, I think, is the adoption of the Kindle as an artistic medium in itself; the first e-artbooks would need to be made specifically as such.

I agree, I think this is ultimately the direction art ebooks will have to go -- as a separate type of book entirely (maybe as a stand-alone book, maybe as a supplement to a print book). It will require a different conception of the relation between text and image, which will necessitate a completely different editorial and design approach -- rather than the "why can't those stupid book files just be made into PDFs and put on an iphone already?!" approach. Some publishers/institutions are approaching it from the latter angle, with an eye to being the first out of the gate; others are approaching it from the first angle, with an eye to developing a new type of book over the long run. We'll see how it shakes out. (I have my own opinions, but I have probably snarked too much already about my own place of employment, so I'll just leave it at that...)
posted by scody at 2:02 PM on September 5, 2009


That seems like a great way to fill a library with nothing but Danielle Steele and Stephen King

That's a perfect description of my town library. A librarian at the library one town over (slightly larger) was explaining why they got rid of all their nice old (out-of-print) children's books because "You wouldn't want your kids reading some old, musty book, would you?"

I say they'd be better off culling Steele and King instead.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:10 PM on September 5, 2009


>A real barista doesn't need a $12k machine to make a good drink.

yeah, but one a minute for 50hrs a week, 50 weeks a year comes out to 8c per pull, assuming a useful life of 1 year for the machine.
posted by Palamedes at 4:19 PM on September 5, 2009


I worked for a public library in a town where the school libraries were underfunded and the response of the library was to decide to not offer curriculum support and purchase NO books that tied into the curriculum. So they would have books on castles for example but not aimed at grade four and nothing on simple machines for grade three. When parents and students came to the public library we were directed to send them right back to the school. The Head Librarian felt that with limited resources the public library should focus on their main demographic (old people in search of recreational reading and dvds with a bit of light non-fiction).

I ALSO worked at a secondary school (different municipality) that received NO funding (for books, electronic resources, yes) at all for the three years I worked there. That school would have jumped all over e-books (assuming students in the lower-socio-economic would somehow convince their parents to purchasing computers and e-books over food and rent) by pointing out the self-fulfilling prophecy that students weren't reading old, crappy books but they were using the electronic resources since electronic resources were their only option.

Libraries are not money makers, they are't set up to be commercial enterprises; it sounds like this school is hoping to make money on the coffee in a way they never could on giving books away for free.
posted by saucysault at 2:41 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the public library I am at now is struggling to keep up with the demand placed on it by students (elementary, secondary and post-secondary) to keep textbooks and curriculum-related materials available since schools (especially post-secondary schools offering distance education) are offering so little in their school libraries to students.
posted by saucysault at 2:47 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


"When I look at cappuccino, I see an outdated stimulant, like methamphetamine before extended-release methylphenidate"
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:36 PM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


If they offered lines of Adderall instead of cappucino they'd have those kids reading like absolute fiends.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:39 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq wrote: As much as I recognize the limitations of space, the very idea of 'weeding' squicks me right out. If a library is supposedly a repository, I'd prefer that books were indeed reposited there permanently, regardless of popularity.

This certainly applies to national libraries, and to academic libraries to a lesser extent. But public and school libraries aren't repositories. They exist to serve their current user base (and "books are for use"). So if a book is outdated ('How to Use Windows 95') or physically degraded, or not of interest to the readers, then it shouldn't be there. There's also evidence that circulation can go up after you weed a collection, because it's easier for readers to find relevant books (see Slote, Weeding Library Collections).

I see where you are coming from, but weeding is really a necessary part of developing and growing a collection. The older books, of lower popularity, can be stored in archival/national libraries, in case they're ever needed.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:08 AM on September 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


A real barista doesn't need a $12k machine to make a good drink.
Where did anyone say that it was necessary? 12K isn't even high end for a commercial espresso machine.
posted by briareus at 9:09 AM on September 7, 2009


If they offered lines of Adderall instead of cappucino they'd have those kids reading like absolute fiends.

It's a New England prep school; I'm willing to bet there's more than a few orange nostrils in the place. The espresso will be just the boost those kids need to get up to heart-asploding territory.

Expect fatalities.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:15 AM on September 7, 2009


Um, if they didn't see merit in those 30 children's books their students had checked out, why did they buy them in the first place? Not really the point, I know, but perhaps it hints at some kind of behind the scenes quarrels over book selection and "what these kids ought to be reading" nonsense.
posted by Jaie at 6:11 AM on September 10, 2009


LOC is primarily there to serve Congress

True, but they will serve anyone. Which is nice.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:17 AM on September 12, 2009


I'm late to the party, again.

The headmaster for Cushing Academy, Dr. James Tracy, posted a follow-up summary of forthcoming changes, noting that "many of the books that have been removed from the library have found new homes in departmental offices," and the choice to purchase 18 e-books was with the intention that the "students [would] have dramatically increased access to millions of volumes rather than just 20,000." Dr. Tracy also noted that "Cushing has for years been a laptop school, where all students bring laptops to their classrooms (provided free to financially needy students), every classroom is equipped with a “smart board” with access to the internet, and there is wi-fi across campus."

He's also adding to the staff of librarians, so the kids (who pay attention) might actually get some decent training with proper internet research, instead of turning to Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:35 AM on September 24, 2009


The fact that there is still no public statement about this from Elizabeth Vezina, current library director, is concerning to me. The library website makes no mention of this huge change.
posted by jessamyn at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2009


jessamyn: very interesting point.

I agree that doing away with the only library the school has is bizarre, but think of the context of the current high school student: at 15 years old, computers are ubiquitous in ways older generations think about cars - they're changing and improving, but they've always been there. Personal computers have gone from residing in school computer labs and homes of the geeky and/or elite, to cell phones that browse the internet. Heck, the internet has always been there for them! That 15 year old was only 5 when Napster was born, so even file-sharing has always* existed. Computers are part of their lives in ways most of us cannot comprehend, because we've known of a time without computers always being available and widely networked. My high school library seemed hokey compared to the local public library, and I was in awe of the 5 story complex of the university library. Looking back, the high school library was piddly on all accounts. Buying Kindles and Sony e-Readers won't replace that library, but might actually increase the readership of classics (or increase use of book-copying websites).

*for the time they've been aware of the capabilities of the internet
posted by filthy light thief at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2009


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