Cushing Academy is only a short drive from my house out in the idyllic country of central Massachusetts. It's one of a few really outstanding prep schools that flourish in out here "in the sticks," but despite its country location, is leading the way in a conversion from paper books and texts to electronic books. I read a Boston Globe article on the switch with interest this weekend and have to side with e-book converts on a divided staff.
Cushing is not just encouraging the use of e-books; it is eliminating the stacks in its library (donated to local schools and libraries) in favor of an infinitely more progressive "learning center." According to the Globe article,
“Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we’re building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books,’’ said [James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus], whose office shelves remain lined with books. “We see this as a model for the 21st-century school.’’
A quick look at Cushing's web presence shows a real commitment at the administrative level to 21st century education. Their Twitter bio reads "Superior New England preparatory school, preparing leaders for the 21st century" and their website touts a two-year old program called "the Cushing Institute for 21st Century Leadership" or "21C."
And yet the Globe reporter found quite a bit of trepidation among teaching and library staff at Cushing. Books, after all, are a hallmark of education, aren't they? Are kids actually missing "dignity of the library" as one instructor called it? Is a "move to increase digital resources" mutually exclusive with physical books?
Regular readers of this blog will know that I love books. I love reading more than any other leisure activity and spent every spare moment through college devouring books. Any yet I have a real affinity with the students at Cushing now, who simply see this as a natural progression in absorbing information. The romance is not in the medium, but rather in the content. If that content can be delivered digitally, virtually, and universally, then I think Cushing is absolutely on the right track.
Cushing, of course, has the luxury of a student body who can largely afford laptops, Kindles, and Sony Readers to access all of the content in and out of class, at the library and beyond. However, as broadband becomes increasingly ubiquitous and reading devices (whether netbooks, laptops, or e-readers) get cheaper, even public schools will be able to benefit from greater adoption. Now if someone can just sort out DRM, we'll be golden.
If anyone is interested, by the way, and has an advanced degree in library/media science, Cushing is looking for a Director of Media/Academic Technology Integration to oversee the new center. Guess I should have skipped the master's degree in math, eh?