Virtual Library

Pioneering School Library Becomes Bookless

Cushing Academy, in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, might be the first public or private school to trade its paper-and-ink library collection for electronic devices. Before the switchover, spot checks showed that on some days, fewer than 30 books, or about 0.15 percent of its 20,000-book inventory, circulated. Today, the small school’s access to books is in the hundreds of thousands and growing. Staff has been added to help students navigate the electronic stacks using the library’s 65 Kindle e-readers and learn to discern, “what is valuable information or reliable from what is junk,” advises Headmaster James Tracy, Ph.D. Students also are downloading books on their laptops, iPhones and iPod Touch players.

The school pays as little as $5 to buy an e-book, so it can access six books for the price of a traditional $30 hardcover. Response has been mixed; the high-tech library is engaging students, but highlighting and saving notes on passages, “is awful,” reports a junior at the school. Cross-referencing maps and graphics is, at present, problematic. Plus, it’s hard for students to happen upon books as they do when physically walking and browsing the aisles.

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