Posted by: i82much | September 6, 2009

$500k = -20k books, 1 cappucino maker, 18 e-book readers

This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks – the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.

Full story

Even supposing that the e-book readers are perfect and that people can use them well, that’s only 18 people who can be using the library resources at once!

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.

They use this to bolster their argument that no one is using the print resources; therefore it makes sense to move to digital.  Given a single data point like this with no indication of how many people checked out that many books, it is impossible for us on the outside to know for sure whether they’re full of it.

In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

What the hell?  Has anyone attempted to read text off of a tv, even a high def one, for a long period of time?  It’s not pleasant.  What is their use case for this?

they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by and Sony.

So for this overhaul, they literally spent more on the cappucino machine than they did on the e-book readers themselves.  Unbelievable.  Furthermore, according to wikipedia there were 450 students in 2006; assuming the same number today that leaves 1 e-book per 25 students.

Anyways, I don’t have much more to say other than that, I’ve used a Kindle and while it’s good, it doesn’t replace a library worth of books by any means.



  1. First – absolutely, totally incompetent execution. Even setting aside the choice of purchases, the amounts they’re paying ($560 per ebook reader, $14000 per TV, $12000 for a fancy cappucino machine) are much, much higher than regular market rates for the same items. But the idea itself isn’t as crazy as it seems at first glance.

    Let’s assume that the purpose of the school having a library is to improve the overall quality of scholarship at the institution. Further, I’m going to assume that they don’t have a really good student study center. Otherwise, I would expect the students to be less enthused about this new center. So what they’ve essentially decided is this: most students rarely or never use books at the library. Most students frequently seek the library as a place where they can quietly work on their laptop, and study digital resources. The school, I assume, can’t afford to keep the library AND build this new center.

    The old library had 20,000 books. As they are located in a town with a public library which is, I assume, part of the MA public library system, the students still can access all or almost all of those resources with a short walk into town and possibly a book request.

    The new study center will encourage scholarship for all students. If, as interviews and librarian opinions indicated, most students were not making ANY use of the library books, this means at most a small inconvenience will be shifted onto the shoulders of the few who were in exchange for benefiting the scholarship of all who were not.

    The new center might not be as efficient at providing students with the research materials they want. But it could easily be better at improving the overall level of intellectual work at the school. This is also, incidentally, why I don’t have a problem with the cappuccino machine costing more than the ebook readers – the ebook readers are being set aside for occasional use, whereas they probably expect the cappuccino machine to provide a great draw bringing students in from the distractions of their dorm room to the quiet of the library.

  2. MM,

    I’m unpersuaded by several aspects of your apologia.

    First, you claim that the study halls are inadequate, and that eliminating the library is necessary to produce a good one. You cite as evidence enthused students and a pinched budget. As far as I can tell these are the fabrications of a too-charitable mind. Where do you see enthused students? To my ear, “it’s a little strange, but it’s the future” does not sparkle with excitement. And it sounds like the school’s eliminating books not because it can’t afford perfectly nice study areas, but because it’s headmaster is an amateur futurologist.

    That the school’s in the grips of futurist fantasy also suggests it might be overlooking the main benefit of a high school’s having a large library: not that it can offer plenty of books that could be of use to its students (only a meager fraction of a respectable HS collection will be), but that it can afford its students the opportunity to learn how to do old fashioned research (including finding books, distinguishing between the valuable and the useless, parsing them for information, etc.).

    Finally, I can’t see how turning a high school library into a coffee bar will be salutary to scholarship. Granted it will attract students – just like bad claret attracts professors emeritus – but they won’t come as scholars.

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